I quite often find books I wish I'd read when I was nine or ten. It's not nearly as common (why?) to find books I wish I'd had on hand when I was thirteen. Wildwing, by Emily Whitman (2010, YA) is one of those rare books--I would have utterly adored it. Utterly. The medieval-ness! the romance (which, although mild by YA standards, has its moments of steam)! the falconry! the pretty dresses! And even the jaded, cynical me of today enjoyed it lots, in a pleasant sort of way.
Life in early 20th-century England is not being kind to young Addy. She's bitter at being forced to leave school to take a job as a maid, and she's raw from the taunts of her school-mates who scorn her both for her poverty and for having an unknown father. Her new position isn't all bad--she's working for an absent-minded inventor, who pulls himself out of his shell of grief (dead wife and son) enough to discuss Shakespeare with her, and she gets to live at her own home. But her mother soon decides she'd be better off in a live-in situation--and Addy, contemplating a future of hard labor and few opportunities, becomes desperate to escape.
And one of her employee's inventions provides the perfect way to do so. Addy discovers it is a time machine, and passes through it into the Middle Ages. In a huge stroke of luck (for Addy at any rate) her arrival coincides with the sinking of a ship that was bringing the Lady Matilda to the castle whose lord she was shortly to marry. And Addy, discovered standing on the shore amid the wreckage, with Matilda's jeweled cross in her hands, finds she has a rather nice little place for herself in this new reality.
No longer the object of anyone's scorn, she revels in her new found status. And even more so, she delights in her growing friendship with Will, the handsome young falconer. With her intended husband away from home, it's easy not to think about what the future might hold. Especially when out flying falcons with Will...
But life as a medieval lady comes with a price. "Matilda" must marry the lord of the castle; if she does not, blood will be shed and innocent people will suffer. Gradually Addy begins to realize that status and luxury aren't the most important things in life after all....
So, as I said above, it's a book I would have loved at the height of my unicorn phase back in the day. I would have thought Addy and Will's romance just as swoonworthy as all get out, and sympathized tons with Addy's growing realization that life in the past isn't all wish fulfillment, and that her actions might have serious consequences for others. The build-up of political tension leads to a nice ratcheting up of the suspense as the story progresses, moving the focus away from Addy's preoccupation with herself, to larger issues. (And something else very interesting happened toward the end that would be a spoiler to mention, but which I appreciated as a reader).
And, as I also said above, it was a pleasant read for me today, but it didn't quite cross-over into the territory of books with which I form a deep and visceral connection. This is, I think, because Addy's story is a fantasy of a middle ages that never was. It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief to accept her easy adjustment into the role of Matilda (I am, however, perfectly willing to accept the happy opportunity of Matilda's shipwreck, unlikely though that is--that's just what happens). It was also hard for me to believe that she would be able to forge her relationship with Will. There is a lot of vivid historical detail, but still Whitman, as she makes clear in her author's note, knew very well she was sacrificing historical accuracy in the interests of story telling.
The result is just too easy. This is one of those nice, sanitary middle ages where the time traveller can understand the language and everything is more or less logical (as opposed, say, to the middle ages of Connie Willis' Doomsday Book). And because I couldn't quite believe in this medieval world, I never quite believed (until things heated up toward the end) that it was much more than a dream, in which there was little consequence to anything anyone did.
Still, if you have a thirteen year old girl around who dreams of tapestries and lords and ladies riding out with falcons on their arms....do them a favor and give them this book! They will thank you.
Other thoughts at Stacked, The Story Siren, Tempting Persephone, and Ezine of a Random Girl