An old-fashioned fairy tale of curses, magic and selflessness, complete with a kindhearted heroine and misunderstood monsters.
Twelve-year-old Princess Gwendolyn longs to sail the seas, but her family has been imprisoned on their home island of Valmar ever since the evil King Sköll of Merovia’s army invaded years ago. However, Gwendolyn gets her chance at adventure when a gryphon warns her that Merovian forces plan to attack the island again, this time wiping out not only her own kingdom, but a neighboring kingdom of giants as well. Undaunted by the historical strife between the giants and the Valmarians (or the disapproval of her parents), Gwendolyn sets out to restore peace between the kingdoms so they can join forces against the Merovians. Complications arise, however, when an ancient dragon seeks revenge against Gwendolyn’s family for stealing from him years before. As Gwendolyn strives to protect her kingdom, she calls upon her shrewd younger brother Aelthelred and her mysterious tutor Polonius, and faces cruel trolls and deceptive kings. Along the way, she discovers her own power and strength as she deals with nearly impossible predicaments. Spirited and altruistic, though not faultless, Gwendolyn is a thoroughly enjoyable female heroine. Although Sakelson’s moral lessons on courage and unselfishness may feel heavy-handed to adults, they aren’t so blatant that they’ll turn off middle-grade readers. The author’s well-paced tale has hints of The Lord of the Rings series and Welsh and Irish mythology, and in a literary landscape of post-apocalyptic trilogies and tortured heroines, this graceful main character feels refreshingly uncomplicated and wholesome. The lack of a romantic interest, too, gives the tale a more modern feel. Its clever plot twists, likable characters and twists on common folklore will intrigue readers familiar with fairy tales and delight readers who are new to the fantasy genre.
Although slightly old-fashioned and unflashy, Sakelson’s debut is a worthy addition to the canon of medieval fairy tales.