Beautiful bookmaking, lovely storytelling and wondrous illustrations make for a splendid sequel-of-sorts to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (2013).
The little girl of the earlier tale is now “Aunt” Lillian, a woman in her 80s who lives alone and who fascinates young Sarah Jane Dillard, the middle of seven red-haired sisters. Sarah Jane tells parts of the story in the first person, while her sisters (two sets of twins and two singletons) figure in third-person sections woven in and around Sarah Jane’s account. Harvesting ginseng, or ’sang, for Aunt Lillian by herself for the first time, Sarah Jane finds an injured ’sangman. By helping him, she angers the bee fairies who had attacked him. Aunt Lillian enlists the aid of the Apple Tree Man to negotiate in the Otherworld but not before all of the sisters become entangled in the fight on one side or another. The skills of the sisters—Adie at action; Laurel and Bess at music; Elsie at observation; and Ruth and Grace at raising hell—all play into the resolution, although not without a bit of eldritch assistance. The language is as pretty on the page as it is in the speaking, with rich echoes of fantasy tropes. The story and the art are reworked from a limited edition of some time ago, described by Vess in an artist’s note.
There is a promise of more stories at the ever-so-satisfying end, which comes with the tiniest hint of romance past and future—readers will be enchanted. (Fantasy. 8-12)