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The Golden Hour    by Maiya Williams order for
Golden Hour
by Maiya Williams
Order:  USA  Can
Harry N. Abrams, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

I do not know where to begin describing this thoroughly fun and enjoyable fantasy. Maiya Williams has created an original story in The Golden Hour while staying true to teen's and children's fantasy roots.

A year after their mother's death, Rowan Popplewell and his younger sister Nina are sent to spend the summer with two strange aunts in the backward town of Owatannauk, Maine. Neither sibling is pleased with the destination but things become bearable when they meet twins Xanthe and Xavier. The four children decide to have a summer adventure and visit a run-down hotel that is off-limits. From the outside the hotel is strange enough, with numerous maze-like courtyards and a variety of architectural styles. Inside the hotel, however, is the strangest invention the children have ever seen - an 'alleviator' (an elevator that travels through time)! Nina heads back in time. Rowan and the twins try to find her, only to end up in France at the start of the revolution.

The sense of adventure and magic in The Golden Hour has the feel of a classic turn-of-the-previous-century fantasy - Rowan and his friends discover a secret magic that can be used to fulfill their adventurous wishes. However, Williams' style is geared more to readers from the turn-of-this-century. If E. Nesbit's characters had stumbled on the alleviators, they would have spent the entire novel traveling to different eras and scraping out of comical jams. While Williams could have taken this lighthearted approach, she chose to fully develop her characters and plot through one trip in the alleviators. In this journey, Rowan, like all current heroes, struggles with personal issues relevant to teens while learning about himself through his adventures.

Another advantage of limiting the story to one trip is that Williams was able to create a thorough feel for the time period. The late eighteenth century France that Rowan and his friends visit is not the dreary revolutionary France read about in textbooks. Williams does show peasants (angry over the bread shortage) storming the Bastille, but she also shows more. One of my favorite passages was one in which Rowan overhears two fops arguing over who gets to help King Louis XVI put on his dressing gown. This passage captures the flavor of the time period with a reality that is never discussed in standard middle school or high school history books. This attention to detail makes the book stand out among other fantasy novels.

Maiya Williams has made a mark with her debut novel, The Golden Hour. Fantasy fans will easily get caught up in her imaginative story, one that will be delighting readers for many years to come.

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