Little, Brown & Co., 2006 (2005)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
his gothic medieval fantasy for teens is set in a parallel world, ruled despotically by the
and Lord Protector, who promote a religion rife with superstition and fear of
. They ruthlessly suppress any form of rebellion, which simmers amongst the commoners.
gnes Cotter, who lives with her Aunt Jennet in the village, takes up a position at Murkmere Hall as companion to the crippled Master's ward Leah, whom he keeps hidden behind the high walls of his estate. Agnes' mother worked as a maid at Murkmere before her death. Agnes wears an amber amulet for protection and sees signs in the appearance of different species of birds. She keeps in touch with her childhood friend, Jethro Sim, who does not want her to work at Murkmere, and has his own secrets.
t first, Miss Leah does not welcome a companion, but over time and with many misunderstandings, she and Aggie develop a degree of friendship. Leah visits the frozen lake at every opportunity to commune with its swans, who allow her close to them. The villain of the piece is the estate's handsome steward Silas Steed, whom the Master foolishly trusts, but who has his own ambitious plans. These come to fruition at Leah's birthday celebration, which is attended by the Lord Protector himself, along with his wise fool Gobchick.
is an intriguing, if at times awkward, tale of a young woman's coming of age, and how she copes with conflicts between loyalty and faith. The story has a surprising resolution, that leaves room for further episodes.
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