Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Recorded Books (2016)
Length: 9 hours 37 minutes
In this beautifully magical book, the witch Xan adopts a sacrificial baby from the Protectorate into her heart, having accidentally fed her the moonlight. As baby Luna grows, so does her magic yet she is unable to control it. Soon she unknowingly becomes a hazard to her adoptive family, turning Glerk into a fuzzy mammal. Xan fears tiny dragon Fyrian may be next, so she bottles up Luna’s magic until she is older and can control it. Meanwhile, sorrow hangs heavy over the Protectorate as the Tower and the Elders demand the yearly sacrifice to the ‘witch’ to keep their town safe. Meanwhile, young Antain has grown into a young man and over the course of the book he becomes determined to stop the ‘witch’ from stealing any more of their children.
Wow! Just, simply, wow! I fell in love hard with this book. I do enjoy a fun kid’s book here and there but this hit all the right buttons for me. It has this wonderful mix of magic, sorrow, adventure, loss, love, discovery, humor, and goodbyes. Barnhill has magnificently caught the sorrow of losing a child and also a child’s longing to know their biological parents in this intense fairy tale. Those two things give what would otherwise be a light, fun read a certain keen edge that makes all the beautiful parts that much more intense.
The Protectorate is surrounded by a bog and a forest and few of the residents know of any life outside the area. It is ruled by two powers – the Council and Elders (a group of ‘wise’ old men) and the Tower (which is filled with armed, armored, and well-educated women). Right away, we are privy to a yearly scene where a child is taken from its family and walked to edge of the town and left for the evil ‘witch’ to retrieve. The townsfolk are told this is to keep the entire town from being decimated by the witch, but the Elders all know there is no witch. The ritual keeps them in power and comfort. Young Antain, who is being groomed to become an Elder, sees first hand the horrible result of this as the baby’s mother goes insane with grief and is locked in the Tower for safekeeping.
Xan has known for years that the Protectorate gives up a child on the same day every year so she has been visiting them in secret and taking the babies off to other cities to be adopted into willing families. Yet this time it is different. Xan calls down the starlight to feed the baby, but she is extra hungry, and before Xan knows it, she has accidentally fed the babe moonlight, enmagicing her. Xan decides to adopt her, names her Luna, and becomes her Grandmother. Glerk, an ancient, friendly bog monster, and Fyrian, a tiny baby dragon, round out the family.
Xan is the real star of this book. She gives so much and becomes a bit of a willing sacrifice herself. Her decisions drive much of the plot. Plus I just enjoy her character. She’s got a bit of a hidden history that becomes clearer towards the end of the book. Luna is fun but she doesn’t have much of a personality until the last quarter of the book. I was also quite taken with Antain. His story arc is the most dynamic, starting off as a young lad, being groomed as an Elder, studying in the Tower, suffering a scarring accident, and eventually resolving to put an end to the yearly sacrifices. I think Antain deserves a story of his own. Fyrian and Glerk provide the comedic relief much of the time but add so much love and happiness to the tale I would be shallow to dismiss them. Glerk, being as ancient as he is, knows the importance of family and the ties of love and friendship. Fyrian is not as young as he thinks he is but he’ll grow into it.
There is a hidden villain in the story and I didn’t figure out their identity until the last third of the book. I loved that I was totally not expecting it and therefore, I didn’t really know where this tale would take me. I loved that I couldn’t easily predict how things would turn out. The story has just enough hard edges, just enough evil and sorrow, that the author had me wondering if this fairy tale would indeed have a happy ending. Luna’s mom really captures the heart of this novel. Her immense love for her lost baby has driven her into a deep sorrow and that sorrow has pushed her into a touch of insanity and that touch has opened the door of magic just a crack. All these elements are connected in one person here and the bigger story shows how those elements connect all the people in this tale to one another. It’s really quite clever. Like up there with Neil Gaiman kind of clever.
In short, I can’t recommend this book enough. I was captured from the opening scene and didn’t want to put it down. I was never quite sure how things would end and this kept me thoroughly invested in the story and characters.
I received a free copy of this book.
The Narration: Christian Moore did a great job with this book. I loved her voice for Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian. She also managed quite well in portraying not only a young Antain but also the man he grew into over the course of the book. Her voice for the true villain could be quite spooky indeed! She was excellent at imbuing scenes with the correct, and sometimes subtle, emotions.
What I Liked: Beauty and sorrow mixed together; and intense fairy tale; enchanting characters; clever villain; ties of family, friendship, and love; Antain’s quest; Luna’s coming of age; Xan’s sacrifice; Glerk and Fyrian; excellent narration; beautiful cover art.
What I Disliked: Nothing! A completely enchanting tale.
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