A timid young girl must venture out into the wider world in an effort to find allies and save her mother from malignant magic.
Her home in ashes and her mother rooted to the ground—literally—Grayling reluctantly sets out with a handful of herbs and potions and a song that calls wise folk to gather. Her meager pharmacopeia is quickly gone, devoured by a small mouse that winds up playing a large role in her adventures. The gathering song works, more or less, and Grayling is joined by an elderly weather witch and her sulky apprentice, a self-absorbed enchantress, and an academic (and ineffectual) wizard. Cushman crafts these characters with humor and humanity, avoiding caricature while giving each a distinctive personality. Unfortunately, none of her companions seems to know much more than Grayling about what evil is abroad or how to combat it. The plot unwinds smoothly as the group experiences setbacks and danger while traveling through a clearly limned, seemingly medieval, and presumptively all-white kingdom. The eventual revelation of just who unleashed the destructive power manages to be simultaneously unexpected, plausible, and thought-provoking.
Despite her self-doubt, Grayling is cut from the same cloth as the author’s other sturdy heroines, but she is also an entirely original and endearing character that readers will cheer on as she seeks to save her mother and return her world to rights. (Fantasy. 9-12)