A fantasy debut sees a royal family battle a curse and a princess train to save her younger sister.
In the kingdom of Stonedragon, Fairy Queen Sinead is giving birth. She’s in the rose garden during a rainstorm with her fairy midwife, Maureen. Instead of going inside, the queen says, “My daughter is not some insipid princess to be petted….She is a fey creature.” But Sinead hardly meets her daughter—the queen dies immediately after the birth. Sinead’s mother, the fey Sorcha, insists that the child, named Rowan, is poisonous. In the ensuing years, King Balder takes a new wife, Gwyneth, and Princess Rowan grows into an androgynous little spitfire, better suited to tumbling in mud than wearing gowns. Gwyneth eventually gives birth to Roisin, who is displayed for visitors at the age of 6 months. Sorcha isn’t invited but arrives anyway. She places a curse on the infant, threatening that when Roisin turns 16, Rowan will break her sister’s heart and poison her with a finger pricked on a spindle. To fight the curse, three of Sinead’s fey aunts—Alma, Bride, and Cianna—offer to hide Roisin in anonymity until she turns 16. In this intricate twist on the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale, Caryn takes the motif of stolen innocence and runs with it through some dark emotional thickets. Rowan spends her teenage years forging herself into a knight despite the mockery of her father’s men and his own disapproval. Single-minded in the tasks of killing Sorcha and saving Roisin, the princess remains joyless until she begins exchanging letters with Prince Gavin of nearby Turrlough. Though they’ve never met, love blossoms when she realizes that “the days that pass between our correspondences are somehow less real, less important.” The curse, however, is a complex one; it frays the bonds among everyone else who cares for Roisin and constantly makes Rowan question her self-worth. And though Caryn’s debut features magic and swordsmanship, casual fantasy readers may be blindsided by the narrative’s maturity. The last page is nothing anybody might expect and a far cry from “The End.”
This hopeful adult fairy story focusing on two siblings glows with emotional complexity.