Carolyn Cushman Reviews Books by Tamora Pierce, Irene Radford, Margaret Rogerson, Mark Twain & Philip Stead

Tamora Pierce, et al., Tortall: A Spy’s Guide (Random House 978-0-375-86767-5, $24.99, 294pp, hc) October 2017.

Tamora Pierce, Julie Holderman, Timothy Li­ebe & Megan Messinger put together this selec­tion of items, a mix of correspondence, guides, and spy reports about people and creatures in Pierce’s country of Tortall, the setting for 18 young-adult books so far. In a sense, it’s full of spoilers, as brief biographies note who’s mar­ried to whom, along with timelines and histori­cal notes (with occasional witty comments in the margins) that reveal what happens, at least broadly, in some of the novels. Most of the items, though, involve tangential events and minor characters, such as the entertaining di­ary entries from the royal chef complaining about the stress of putting together memorable feasts. At times pieces come together to tell surprisingly satisfying stories. Overall, it’s less a non-fiction guide to the series than a fun col­lection/anthology for Pierce’s fans, who should appreciate both the added depth and the humor provided.

Irene Radford, A Spoonful of Magic (DAW 978-0-7564-1291-3, $7.99, 345pp, pb) Novem­ber 2017. Cover by Lindsay Look.

A woman devoted to her family and baking discovers her life is built on lies in this fantasy novel, which deftly mixes humor and tension. Daphne “Daffy” Deschants has a special tal­ent for cooking, which she uses to make the popular baked goods in her coffee shop in Eugene OR, but she doesn’t realize her magic touch is really magic – until she breaks up with her cheating husband and discovers he’s part of a whole magic community and has been hid­ing it from her all along. Even her three kids have magic. It’s a little hard to believe Daffy is so completely clueless or that her husband so drastically underestimated her, and it’s a bit disturbing that Daffy still has a hard time re­sisting the lying, abusively over-protective (but handsome) bastard. Fortunately, Daffy’s strong enough emotionally and magically to deal with her fundamentalist neighbors, her unpredict­able new powers, her kids and their crazy abili­ties, and dark magics that threaten them all. It’s all great fun, even if I kept thinking Daffy re­ally needed therapy a lot more than a man in her life.

Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ra­vens (McElderry 978-1-4814-9758-9, $17.99, 297pp, hc) September 2017. Cover by Charlie Bowater.

A woman sees too much when she paints the portrait of a faerie prince, setting off a wild ad­venture in weird lands, in a charming young-adult first novel mixing fairy tale, romance, and art. In this world, the fair folk are obsessed with the Craft, the human ability to create things like art, music, fashion, and cooked food. The faeries can’t create, and find having humans nearby useful. Isobel, a master portrait painter at 17, supports her family in the town of Whim­sy in the constant summer of the summerlands. She knows how to make careful deals with the fairies for her art, but when she adds a hint of human emotion to the autumn prince’s por­trait she unwittingly stirs up trouble that sends her fleeing with the prince from his enemies. Worse, they fall in love, and that’s a capital crime. Their romance starts with insults, snip­ing, and home truths, and builds nicely from there. While their flight is full of thrills, it’s the weird world and mindset of the fair folk that really steal the show.

Mark Twain & Philip Stead, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine (Doubleday 978-0-553-52322-5, $24.99, 152pp, hc) September 2017. Cover by Erin Stead.

Notes by Twain about a fairy tale he told his daughters are transformed by writer Philip Stead into a charmingly quirky novelette for middle-grade readers, delightfully illustrated and augmented by Erin Stead. It’s an amus­ing blend of a simple children’s story and truly odd bits, narrated as if the author were being told the story in a conversation with Twain. The story follows Johnny, a poor boy raised by his un­pleasant grandfather, who orders Johnny to sell his only friend, a chicken named Pestilence and Famine. In traditional form, Johnny comes home with some magic seeds, and ultimately ends up on a quest for a missing prince. In barest outline, it’s a typical fairy tale, but it’s liberally embroidered with absurd bits, trenchant asides, and humorous touches, all accompanied by evocative and slyly humorous, atmospheric illustrations that mix the faded effect of color woodcut prints with ink and pencil drawing. It’s appealing on many levels, with something for readers of all ages.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the January 2018 issue of Locus.

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