Rose by Holly Webb was shortlisted for the 2013 Cybils Awards in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I've also seen a number of positive reviews around the blogs. So when Rose popped up as a Kindle daily deal, I decided to give it a look. And I was immediately hooked (to the point of having to purchase the second book immediately after finishing the first).
Rose is young girl (10 or 11) who has been raised in an orphanage in an alternate version of Victorian London in which magic exists. As the story begins, Rose has just discovered within herself what appears to be magical ability. Rose squashes that down as secondary to her life-long dream of getting a job as a maid, so that she can work to support herself. But, as it happens, the household that hires Rose turns out to be that of a well-known magician, Mr. Fountain. And despite her best efforts to keep her special abilities under wraps, Rose soon finds herself embroiled in a magical mystery involving kidnapped children.
I found Rose to be a charming (a word that I don't use lightly) mixture of magical and historical fiction. Rose is thrilled to have multiple dresses of her own, and a tiny little servant's room up six flights of stairs. She has another maid as a rival, and a potential friend (and perhaps eventual love interest?) in the household page / kitchen boy, Bill. But she also finds herself able to understand the thoughts of the household cat, and occasionally indulging in unintentional acts of magic. When she learns that her best friend from the orphanage has been kidnapped, she is unable to stop herself from taking action to help.
In short, Rose offers strong characters, detailed world-building, and an appealing premise (maid as reluctant magician). I found Rose, and its title character, a delight. I highly recommend it for middle grade readers, especially girls.
I can't say that I enjoyed Rose and the Lost Princess quite as much. In this second book, Rose is still working as a maid, but she is also training part time as Mr. Fountain's second apprentice. A freakishly cold and snowy winter is being blamed on magicians, and the country's beloved young princess is in danger. Rose is eventually sent to the palace to help the princess, and hopefully help save the reputations of magicians throughout the city.
I still enjoyed Rose and the Lost Princess, but I didn't love it the way I did the first book. Maybe because the world-building was already more set, so it wasn't as interesting. Maybe because the more sterile palace setting lacked the warmth of Mr. Fountain's house. Maybe because people who were nice to Rose in the first book, like Mr. Fountain's cook, aren't reacting well to her magical abilities. Maybe because I just don't like winter. I don't know. This book just seemed a bit more bleak.
I'll likely get a yen to check in with what's going on with Rose again in the future, but I'm fine with taking a break from the series right now. Still, I highly recommend Rose. When I was reading it I was consumed by Rose's magic-tinged world. Rose would make a great introduction to speculative fiction for any middle grade reader. And for such readers, it's a wonderful thing that there are other books in the series. There are two more to come. This series was originally published in the UK, and is being released on a compressed schedule here in the US.
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: September 2013, April 2014
Source of Book: Purchased them
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