5/24/18

The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer

Back when I was a freshman in high school, the book I re-read most was The Silver Sun, by Nancy Springer.  Part of the appeal was that I crushed equally on the two protagonists, both beautiful young men, with different enough personalities that I spent time trying to decide if I had a preferences, part of it was the magical world,  and exciting story.  But I think that what most drew me back and back again to the story was that it centered on the idea that there are people you meet with whom you form relationships that complete you.  As a 14-year-old, I naturally felt uncompleted and not fully and beautifully understood, so the idea that you could meet someone who helped fill the empty part of one's self, making that self a better thing, was tremendously appealing.

As a grown-up, I haven't been moved to re-read it, but I still felt much interest and anticipation when I was offered a review copy of The Oddling Prince, Nancy Springer's newest book (Tachyon Publications, upper Middle Grade/YA, May  2018) .  It was a book with much the same theme, and I was not at all surprised to read in the author's note that it is "a deliberate return to her beginnings as a writer." 

It is about a king saved from death when the son he never knew he had arrives from the land of fairy, becoming mortal to save his father.  But there is a catch.  The king had been imprisoned by the fairy queen, who bore his son, Albaric, and while no time passed in our world, there that child grew to be a young man, the same age as the king's human son, Aric.  Aric recognizes and embraces his brother instantly, but the king has no memory of his imprisonment and the son he loved while the fairy queen's captive, and is horrified by the arrival of the strange, unworldly Albaric.  He becomes almost insane with paranoia, threatening to destroy his once loving relationship with Aric, and even his kingdom.

But Aric and Albaric will never forsake each other; each is necessary for the other's happiness.  It takes all of Aric's loyalty and determination, some marvelous magic, and love, to bring peace back to the family and the land.

So that whole idea of the beloved second-self, that spoke so strongly to young me, is here even more explicitly, as is the medieval sort of world where magic happens from time to time.  And young me would have loved it.  Older me is more worldly-wise, and though I enjoyed the book, I was more conscious that the prose was somewhat stiff in a sort of old-fashioned sounding way, and that made me wonder who exactly would love this book if it was the first of the author's they'd read.  Since the tension of the plot comes from personal relationships, though there is some fighting action, those who like Excitement in their stories might not feel invested in the story.  Those who like misty Scottish-esque medieval settings, where magical rings of the fey can ensnare kings, and love wins in the end, may on the other hand find this gorgeous.  Starry-eyed youthful dreamers in their younger teens (who don't get distracted by cynical thoughts about word choices) are the best audience, and (inevitably) that is not who I am any more.

nb:  there is also a beautiful magical horse, giving the book bonus appeal points for horse-loving readers.  And thought the book is focused on the two boys, the queen and the girl Aric is destined to marry are both strong characters; the queen, in particular, is the sanest of the bunch!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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