While on vacation, I read a few new titles. Mostly, they were picked on the strength of their cover art. (I love picking a book based on its cover. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s fun to look!)
Anyway, since I have all these new titles to share, for the next few days there will be some new book reviews.
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Mistwood, by Leah Cypess was the first book in the pile of books I brought home. It was started before the actual vacation began, and I was still reading the last paragraph while waiting for my ride to the airport, crossing my fingers that it would be slightly delayed, so I could finish. I read the last paragraph just as my ride arrived. Whew!
First, look at that cover. The flat image doesn’t really do it justice. There’s a gloomy castle, shrouded in mist. A girl with hair covering most of her face, but with one very bright green eye, slitted like a cat’s, staring out; because her mouth is covered, it’s hard to tell how she feels. Gold lettering, with whorls and swirls and a celtic-like florish enhancing the words. And the whole thing has a purple shimmer over it. Beautiful! So now that the cover has been admired, how’s the story?
The girl on the cover lives in a forest…alone and wild. The story starts when a prince who has inherited his father’s kingdom rides into the mysterious Mistwood with his sister and younger brother, looking for the Shifter–a creature who can shift shapes and form, choosing to be any animal, even a human. When he finds the girl, he calls her Isabel, and insists that she’s the creature he’s looking for. He places a bonding seal bracelet on her wrist, and appeals to her sense of duty to return to the castle with him as his defender. Since Isabel can’t remember anything of her past, she agrees to return with him to the castle.
Prince Rokan must convince his barons to name him King, and he feels that having the Shifter at his side as a bodyguard will proclaim his worthiness to the throne. The Shifter, you see, was created several hundred years ago to protect the King of Samorna and his royal line. Isabel does feel a connection to the Prince, and she recognizes the castle, but her memories of life there are hazy and filled with painful flashes of failure.
No one will tell Isabel exactly what happened when she vanished twenty years ago. She’s convinced that she is the Shifter, but her powers don’t seem to work in the castle; she feels like a human girl, not a powerful protective force. Still, she vows to do her best to protect Rokan, and ensure his succession, even though she knows he’s keeping something from her.
Isabel’s path to helping Rokan is obscured by several people: a vengeful court wizard, angry over something that happened in the past Isabel cannot remember; his apprentice, who seems overly-interested in the history of the Shifter, and how exactly her powers work; Princess Clarissa, Rokan’s unpleasant but beautiful sister, who seems to be working both for and against her brother; and many other figures central to Rokan’s court. It doesn’t help that Isabel is trapped in the body of a teenager, and she seems to be developing feelings for her new charge.
When Rokan’s secret is revealed in the worst possible way, will Isabel learn the truth about her past? Who are her real allies, and who is working against her? Can Isabel find her powers again, before Rokan loses his throne, and maybe, his life?
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I can’t say much more about the storyline without the risk of giving something important away, and this story needs to be unfolded slowly, savoring the secrets revealed. I’d recommend it to readers who love high fantasy, ten and up. Amazon recommends it to grades 7 and up.
Mistwood is currently getting quite a bit of buzz in the book world, and was named one of the Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth: 2010 by Booklist. If you like fantasy books where characters are faced with an impossible choice or where people expect them to do something they know nothing about, you’ll enjoy this one. Fans of Megan Whalen Turner, Sherwood Smith, Jessica Day George and Tamora Pierce should check it out too. I bet you’ll soon be waiting for the next book by Leah Cypess as eagerly as I am!