The Centaur's Daughter, by Ellen Jensen Abbott

I read Ellen Jensen Abbott's first book, Watersmeet (2009, my review), at one of my son's first swimming lessons (nicely appropriate). And I finished its sequel, The Centaur's Daughter (Marshall Cavendish, September 28, 2011, upper middle grade/YA) yesterday at his fencing lesson (he knows how to swim now). Archery would have been more appropriate--many arrows are fired in the course of this book--but fencing would come in handy too....

Abisina thought Watersmeet, a place where all manner of folk (humans, dwarves, fauns, and centaurs) lived together in peace, would be her home forever. After a traumatic childhood as an outcast, despised for her dark skin and black hair by the cruel followers of Vran (blond and blue-eyed) who ruled the towns of the south, she had found refuge there, and helped her father win the war against a supernatural enemy who sought to crush Watersmeet.

But wining a war doesn't mean that peace follows. Hoards of monstrous beings--uberwolves, hags, and minotaurs--are besetting the folk of both north and south. The lands of the Vranians are in chaos, and the flood of refugees to Watersmeet (many still hostile to the diverse folk who live there) threatens to overwhelm it.

Abisina's father died in the war. She wants to do what she can to ensure that his vision of tolerance and peace is not lost, but the challenge seems insurmountable. With all the courage she can muster, she returns to the Vranian lands, with her closest companions--only two of whom are human. The journey is dangerous (the death count of uberwolves grows rapidly) but the real challenge is creating a new society, one in which folk of all kinds can work together.

The challenge is made greater by the fact that Abisina is truly her father's daughter--like him, she is a shapeshifter, who can become a centaur. And centaur's are, with good reason, the most loathed of all the non-human persons...

Me being me, my favorite part of the book was not the exciting fighting monsters aspect (those with a taste for adventure will find much to enjoy!), nor even Abisina's internal confusion about her shapeshifting abilities. What I liked was when Abisina and her companions arrive at the one town where there is hope that a new society can be built, and pitch in with tasks like wall-building and food-gathering....

Abbott's story-telling is direct and to the point. When someone appears trustworthy, they are, and Abisina--full of confusion and uncertainty, but determined withall--is an open book to the reader. In my mind, this makes The Centaur's Daughter an excellent one for the upper middle-school reader--in particular the eleven or twelve year old adventure-loving girls, for whom galloping in centaur form while firing arrows at uberwolves will seem wonderful! Those looking for Romance will find only its first beginnings here, although it seems clear there's more to come. The importance of tolerance and building trust between diverse peoples and cultures are themes that come through loud and clear, and are a welcome message.

So for the target audience, this series is spot on, although the lack of subtlety limits (but doesn't exclude!), I think, the cross-over appeal to adult readers.

Abisina is explicitly described as having dark skin and black hair, discriminated against/hated/distrusted by the majority of the blond, blue-eyed Vranians as a result. Since this prejudice, and intolerance of the other more generally, is important to both her character arc and to the larger story, I'm adding Watersmeet and The Centaur's Daughter to my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy above.

And with regard to that--I'm feeling sad and cross that Abisina's hair has gotten lighter on the cover of The Centaur's Daughter. Although it's damp and untidy, and so hard to tell how light it would be if clean and washed, on both covers, it's clear that her hair as shown on the second book isn't black, or even dark. And, although skin color is more subjective, the girl on the covers doesn't look noticeably dark skinned to me....

By happy chance, there's a great new interview with Ellen Jensen Abbott over at The Enchanted Inkpot.

(review copy received from the publisher)


  1. The girl on the covers is clearly blue-eyed, too. So frustrating! I guess this is why we shouldn't judge books by their covers - but how much deeper the irony in a book of which one of the major themes is prejudice based on appearance.

  2. Her eyes are actually described as green, and so although I'd call the eyes as shown on my ARC "blue green" it's at least not so far off...

  3. Somehow I missed hearing about this series until recently... I've been hearing lots of great things about the second book. I'll have to go back and check out the first!

  4. Where is the second book available at it's not at any libraries in denver or colorado. I NEED TO KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. How frustrating for you! Ask your local library if they can get a copy. Or ask your local bookstore if they can order it for you.


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