By Awnali Mills
This weekend I read two books, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt which was published in 2008 and won all kinds of awards, so I won’t review it here, and Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Ms. Blackwood also wrote Jinx, which I loved, so I had to read her new novel, right? Right?
Lightning Pass is a walled city that controls the only harbor for hundreds of miles, and the only pass through the mountains. The king and the patriarchs see this as an opportunity to gouge the surrounding peoples for exorbitant amounts of fees. This makes these people very cranky. Which would be much worse for Lightning Pass if they didn’t have the sorceresses making sure that the wall around the city was impenetrable.
In one of the houses of Lightning Pass, there is a school run by Miss Ellicott in which surplus girls are taught to be shamefast and biddable, as well as how to do magic. Chantel is the star pupil of this school—at least as far as magic is concerned. She isn’t actually all that good at being shamefast and biddable. Her deportment rapidly goes down the tubes when Miss Ellicott (as well as all the sorceresses) disappears and none of the adults at the school seem capable of finding enough food for the girls to eat.
And then a snake crawls into her head.
Which can be very tickly and uncomfortable.
Very quickly, Chantel finds herself in the middle of a three-way war between the king, the patriarchs, and the Marauders. Everyone wants her to do what they want, but nobody seems to be looking out for the people of the city. Chantel’s determination and cleverness, and the help of her friends, might just be enough to save the city—unless she ends up destroying it.
I really enjoyed this book, and wouldn’t be surprised if there were sequels in the wings. Chantel is a very strong heroine, and I loved that she was a person of color, even though that wasn’t a focus in the story. It’s just nice to have a fantasy heroine be non-white, something I haven’t seen since Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series (not saying it doesn’t exist, but that I haven’t read it).
The whole “shamefast and biddable” thing made my teeth itch (as it was supposed to) but I loved that Chantel was able to use her deportment training to get what she wanted at a few points in the story. I think it’s good for children to know that even though it may be necessary to break rules and be unconventional, it also can pay off big time to know how to behave correctly. Sometimes being polite and respectful is the key to success (even though that isn’t a common theme in fantasy literature.)
Altogether, the book has many good things to say about being strong, standing up for others, and choosing the greater good. The whole time I was reading the book, I kept thinking the phrase well behaved women seldom make history (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). In her world, Chanel is definitely making history! I would put this in the hands of fantasy lovers, and kids who like strong female heroines or action packed stories. Recommended for grades 3-5.