This middle-grade debut finds an audacious child—with a knack for bonding with animals—thrown into peril by her scheming uncle.
In 1908, 12-year-old Clothilde is the only child of Lord and Lady Ashton, new residents of Fairfax, Oregon. Preferring the name Chloe, the precocious girl loves to explore the nearby wilds while her parents run the Mercantile, an imported fabric shop. Life feels idyllic, as Chloe realizes that the house’s staff and woodland creatures alike adore her. Then one day, tragedy strikes her parents, leaving her family shattered. Chloe retreats into a world of literature and befriends a remarkably intelligent white rat whom she names Shakespeare. Further change comes in the form of Uncle Blake Underwood, who arrives to help maintain the Mercantile. But Blake is the shiftiest of characters and quickly compromises the entire estate. He abducts Chloe, bringing her by horse-drawn carriage among a band of vagabonds, intending to sell her. Not without her own natural gifts, Chloe comes to know and speak with Greybelle, her uncle’s horse. The mare describes her own tragic past as well as an ancient battle between the mountains themselves that left the landscape in ruins. If the girl is to escape, she must learn the extent of her own abilities, and just how deep the land’s magic runs. In this appealing novel, Rios writes with an abiding love of nature, illustrating in scene after scene the power people may draw from it. When Chloe displays wonder that animals understand her, Greybelle says, “The respect you show to all beings—human, animal, or plant—is also your ‘voice,’ and they all hear it loud and clear.” As her fortunes wax and wane, Chloe meets other charismatic individuals like the Artist and Mrs. Goodweather. Rios keeps the danger real by using only low-key magic—like enchanted paintings and pies—that feels “so familiar and so natural that it was almost not like magic at all.” The mystery surrounding a suspiciously cloistered hospital and its reckless ambulance drivers should draw readers to the sequel.
An engaging adventure that shows the strength that can be discovered amid tragedy.