Forsaken, by Katherine Langrish

Just sneaking in one quick review before I plunge into the 48 hour reading challenge...

I am an avid reader both of Katherine Langrish's books (such as The Shadow Hunt), and her blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (which is a rich feast for fairy tale lovers). So when I saw that she had a new book out in 2011--Forsaken--, which is a retelling of Matthew Arnold's poem, The Forsaken Merman (which is sad and lovely) I added it to my mental tbr list...and on impulse, I ordered if from the Book Depository last month (cause it's not out in the US). And it came, and I read it, and found it good. But I am not the intended audience, and so this one isn't one I can evaluate on the basis of whether or not it worked for me.

is part of the Rivets series, from publisher Franklin Watts. These are books that are "Perfect for readers who want to enjoy a book by a bestselling author, but who lack the stamina for a full-length novel," with a reading age of 8-9 years, and an interest range of 8-14 years. What we would call in the US "high-low." It's a really, really hard category of book for me to review--I'm not lacking in reading stamina myself, and I'm not an educator of struggling readers. So as an individual, such books will never be best beloved to me (because of being too short!), and I have to make a slight effort to judge them on whether or not they succeed in telling a compelling story in a condensed, clear, manner.

On to the book.

Forsaken tells of the daughter of the Mer King and the human woman who gave up the land to live with him beneath the sea. This woman is unique among the merfolk, not just because she has legs, but because she has an immortal soul. Though she loves her husband and children, one day the call of the church becomes to strong for her to bear, and she returns to land. It was to be just a holiday...but she doesn't return.

And her baby is crying and starving, and her ten-year old daughter, Mara, cannot stand it. So she goes in search of her mother, up the noxious river, onto dry land, and into the church itself. It is a painful journey

"Hand over hand I pulled myself uphill, digging my elbows into the sharp white gravel. My fingers bled and my eyes filled with stinging grey dust. My delicate tail fins became tattered and curled" (page 27).

And so Mara's mother is faced with a choice--does she jeopardize her soul, and return to the sea, or deny her family, and stay on land?

It is a tightly told little story with a big emontional punch. Mara is a forthright narrator, and her pain comes through clearly. The conflict facing Mara's mother is likewise addressed directly. It's rare to see a character in a fantasy book for younger readers confronting a fundamental religious dilemma, and those who believe in a loving God will appreciate her final choice.

So there's the story, and the question is--does this succeed in being one that will hold the interest of a reader up to fourteen years old? I think, for the most part, that it would--it's thought-provoking and compelling, and it's easy to empathize with Mara's painful journey onto dry land. My one reservation is that Mara is only ten years old, which I think would off-put readers older than that. However, I'd give this one in a heartbeat to the seven or eight year old girl who isn't ready as a reader for the long tomes that comprise much of today's middle grade fantasy--the girl who's ready to be challenged by a story, but doesn't quite have the stamina (to use the publisher's word, and why not), for the longer books.

So I'm not at all sorry to have bought it, even though it only took me ten minutes (possibly less) to read it. But I'd really like Katherine Langrish to write another book for me....

Here's another review, at Awfully Big Reviews


  1. This sounds interesting! I love the cover, too. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I loved it. As you say, it's a very, very hard trick to pull off, writing at adolescent maturity level, but with the reading ability of a much younger child, and I think Katherine Langrish manages it, while maintaining the poetic integrity of the original text. As a teacher, I'm delighted that the needs of lower ability girls are being recognised: many publishers focus on the boys in this market.


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