Last week I introduced you to a new book by first-time author, Nancy Chase, called The Seventh Magpie. This week I come to you bearing good tidings: it is everything I hoped it would be, and more.
The Seventh Magpie is billed as a “dark fairy tale of loss and renewal”. I would possibly debate the tag “dark”; so many things these days are dark, and inasmuch as death, grief and despair are dark, this story has just as much darkness as a traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale. As far as calling it a fairy tale … it is on par with the aforementioned master, if not, in places, better.
[the writing is] minimal, yet laced with a lyricism that never feels dull.
In it, we witness young Princess Catrin sent away from her home and her father in the wake of her mother’s mysterious disappearance, left with a single token to remind her of what she left behind: a golden book, containing The Best Story in the World. It comes at a price, though—she can read but one page a day. The book, however, is confiscated for twelve long years, and when she finally has the chance to read it again, she defies this warning—to the loss of all she loves. Striking a bargain with seven devilish magpies, she sets out to redeem her losses, and save her life.
So begins a tale of grief, despair, magic and mystery. Like the best fairy tales, there are riddles, and here they come with a twist: always two answers, one black and one white. There are quests, knights, giants, and a princess whose salvation lies in none, and all, of their hands. There are fantastic places, both glorious and evil, inhabited by creatures of pure imagination, traditional yet novel at the same time.
I can’t begin to say how much I enjoyed this book, marvelously illustrated by the talented Katrina Sesum. Nancy has managed to create a living, breathing world that, whilst borrowing from and settling in comfortably among the canon of traditional folk stories, remains remarkably different and fresh. The language is crafted beautifully and meticulously, and there is as much unsaid as said. Not a word goes to waste, and as an author I appreciate the difficulty of this style of writing: minimal, yet laced with a delicate lyricism that never feels dull. Not once did I think (always with a critical eye) that there was a sentence too many, or a paragraph too few.
Are there faults? As with any story, of course. On a superficial level, there were times (very few, I must admit) when the dialogue felt slightly too modern for the tone of the story (there is the occasional written-out “um” and “uh”). The riddles, while unique and well-written, felt a little interchangeable in their answers (though not the manner in which Catrin learns them). On a deeper level, the lessons the story delivers (for of course, it has a lesson, as should all fairy tales) seem rooted in the consequences of hasty and youthful decisions, and the ending, whilst bittersweet and haunting and wonderful, comes across as the result of the inevitability of fate: it wouldn’t have mattered if Catrin had gone on her quests or not, for she would have ended up the same either way (I hope this doesn’t give too much away!).
The book itself is lovingly crafted, and though the cover seemed gaudy at first, it of course fits the story perfectly. It is by far the most professional self-published book I have ever read, which goes only to show just how much love and time Nancy has put into it. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a single typo or spelling mistake. My only nitpicks are that the paragraph indents are a touch too deep, and I wish the paper was cream rather than white—my own personal preference.
Last thoughts: is it a children’s story? Not quite—no more than any fairy tale is. It’s certainly suitable for all ages, and I can’t recommend it enough. This may well be the first ever review of this story; I know it won’t be the last. I wish Nancy all the best, and I hope this is the beginning of a wonderful career for her!