McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn (Ace, 2004) is a personal favorite in the fantasy genre, so I am happy to learn that she has written another teen-friendly book. There are many enthusiastic fans of Juliet Marillier and Robin McKinley in my library; Alphabet of Thorn has been a good bet when they ask for further recommendations.
Adult/High School–McKillip is known for her rich prose and evocative imagery, but not for teen-friendly plotting, prose, or characters. Here, however, as in Alphabet of Thorn (Ace, 2004), two stories intertwine, and one is explicitly concerned with adolescence and the impending pressures of adulthood. One tale concerns Phelan Cle, son of diffi-cult, enigmatic, frequently drunk, and yet somehow charming Jonah Cle. Phelan must write just one more paper to graduate from the Bard’s school (where his father once failed), but his topic (and the intercut story), legendary bard Nairn, is much more complex than he initially imagined. Phelan’s story also encompasses Princess Beatrice, who prefers grubbing in the past on Jonah’s archeological digs to living up to her mother’s expectations, and who eventually falls for the unsuitable Phelan. Friendship and romance weave throughout, but this is really about the deep and difficult love between parents and children (Phelan and Jonah; Beatrice and her mother; and even Nairn, whose fraught relationship with his mentor may hold secrets and magic at its core). The two stories eventually collide with a Bardic competition in which Phelan must compete against a mysterious figure who seems to wield an old magic (and bears an uncanny resemblance to the man Nairn competed with before he disappeared from his-tory). A gorgeous composition, perfect for older teens looking for a deeper fantasy with a minor note of romance.–Karyn N. Silverman, Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, New York City