Gr 4-6--When Ned was young, he and his twin brother built a raft and tried to sail to the sea. The raft sank, and one boy survived-the wrong boy, if you ask the villagers in Ned's tiny town. Alternately whispered about, teased, and outright ignored, Ned survives his brother's death with a stutter and an air of palpable sadness that seems to weigh down his weak frame. Meanwhile, in the middle of a formidable forest the villagers claim used to be home to nine stone giants, a young girl named Aine lives a fractured life with her father, who leads a horde of bloodthirsty bandits. When the raiders attempt to steal the magic Ned's mother guards so faithfully, Ned and Aine end up as unlikely allies on a journey to right an ancient wrong. Careful, confident Aine; whose skills, both domestic and wild, make her a formidable ally (and excellent heroine), is a studied contrast to the weaker, shy Ned. The boy's growing confidence and ability to wield and protect his mother's magic adds elements of a classic origin-quest tale to a story that's already brimming with a well-drawn, colorful supporting cast, a strong sense of place, and an enchanted forest with a personality to rival some of the best depictions of magical woods.--Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, Darien Library, CTCopyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
In a story of an unexpected hero, a thief's daughter, and some very tricky magic, Barnhill weaves a powerful narrative about the small tragedies that happen when parents fail their children, even with the best intentions. After Ned's twin brother, Tam, drowns, his mother, the village's Sister Witch, binds Tam's soul to Ned, who grows up as an awkward, stuttering boy ostracized by the rest of his village. Aine's widower father loves her, but he loves his life as a Bandit King more. The magic that touches both Ned and Aine draws their lives inexorably together as they are caught up in the machinations of King Ott's selfish empire-building. Barnhill (The Mostly True Story of Jack) makes bold character choices: Ned is soft, but never weak, while Aine is tough, prickly, yet sympathetic. Peripheral adults are well fleshed out, from Ned's father, devastated by the loss of one child and afraid to show his love for the other, to a sensible queen who knows the value of a good witch. Barnhill elegantly joins the story's diverse threads in a complex tale whose poignancy never turns sentimental. Ages 9-up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writer's House. (Sept.)Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.