ARC provided by the author through Netgalley
Mae and her father gather wood from the edge of the Waerg Woods. Poor, dark-skinned, and supposedly tainted by the woods' curse, they live as pariahs in Halts-Walden.
Mae is the craft-born, the one whose nature-connected magic can revive the kingdom - only Mae has to try her hardest to keep her powers secret, for the King has decreed that the craft-born shall marry his son, Prince Casimir.
It seems Mae is in luck: Ellen, the miller's daughter, pretends to be the craft-born and the Prince is coming to get her.
While venturing into the Waerg Woods with the Prince, to convince him not to hunt her white stag Anta, Wanderers from the Waerg Woods come into Halts-Walden to steal Ellen, whom they believe to be the craft-born, and end up killing Mae's father in the struggle.
This is an odd book to rate, and I struggled with it for quite some time.
As a YA book it's mediocre. However, once I chose to read it as Middle-Grade, it's quite good.
It's an entertaining fairytale-like story, but the characters' dialogue and actions, the very descriptions and world building, only work if it's read as MG. It's perfectly fine and reminiscent, in fact, of classical fairytales in its simplicity: this is the heroine, the heroine does this for straight-forward simple reason, heroine announces her thought-processes, we're told a lot because the audience is not meant to have the ability to analyse things in depth.
This may sound critical, but I'm not trying to be. I'm trying to point out how this is being marketed to the wrong audience. As a YA book it doesn't work. As a MG book it's pretty good.
So that rating is the balance of the two. If I were to rate this as YA, I would give it 2 stars, as MG I'd give it 4 stars, so here we are, at 3 stars.
There is a lot to recommend this book, chief of all the Waerg Woods. They are well written and creepy in a sort of la Motte-Fouqué way (for those of you who've read his Undine). The Waerg Woods are divided in sections, each harbouring a new evil: malevolent black birds that swoop into the sky and form clouds that pour down burning rain, a creature that attacks by preying on your fears, deadly cold fog that tries to lure you to a sleepy death, clinging vines that attempt to drain you of your blood.
This book is worth reading for the Waerg Woods alone.
However, there are also good things about the characters - if one reads them as MG, Mae goes from a whiny, arrogant, impetuous and tstl YA-type adolescent, to a young girl who doesn't know better and goes through the usual fairy tale tropes to learn valuable lessons. It's also nice that she never wanted to be Queen and wanted only to live close to nature, being true to herself.
One thing I can't help pointing out, be it YA or MG, is that if you're placing your story in a fantasy realm with a Medieval or Renaissance feel to it, do NOT use the word "okay" in dialogue! It's really, really absurd.
But quibbles aside, I really want to read the next one!
So, in conclusion, if you plan to read this as MG, I recommend it!
Buy White Hart