By: Monica Furlong


Random House Sprinters 1990

A middle grade fantasy review


The only child of a Cornish chieftan, Juniper’s lived all her life with wealth, community, and politics.  As a daughter instead of a son, will she be powerful enough to rule one day?  Will she marry?  Or was she meant to do something different?  When her godmother, the powerful witch Euny, calls her to study magic, Juniper does not know where it will take her.  Through unexpected hardships and hard-earned lessons, Juniper seeks to find her own way in life.  However, Cornwall contains evil sorcerers as well as dorans, and Juniper must use her knowledge to protect those she loves and discover who she should become.

Juniper is a gentle book, with strong themes that glide through everything and tie it all together.  It’s easy to read, with a rhythmic pace that invites you to keep going.  One feels that they are learning along with the heroine, becoming more in tune to some elements in the world.  This harmonic tone is the charm of this book.  As a prequel, it’s focus is on growth and coming-of-age, with small doses of action and only the potential for romance.  It paints the medieval world with a distinctive atmosphere and culture, without teaching or lengthy descriptions.  This book is perfect for a younger reader, easy to slip into and with plenty of room for readers to exercise their own imaginations, with enough supportive details to make the fantasy strong.

The only issue I had with this book is that, having finished it, I still feel estranged from the main character.  Perhaps it is because this is a prequel written after Juniper’s debut appearance and her personality is really established in that.  Let me be clear: I really like Juniper.  I want to feel close to her.  But, for some reason, she never fully clicked in my head.  I would read along, sympathizing with her struggles, feeling I was in her head, and then something would happen.  I had an emotional reaction, just as Juniper clearly had one.  Then, a couple of sentences later, the main emotion Juniper felt would be named.  I was almost always surprised.  Juniper became angry when I thought she was more upset or was ready to burst into tears when I thought she’d be fired up and angry.  This confuses me.  I’ve had characters I just didn’t connect to before, but even of those, never have I read someone who I simply couldn’t grasp.  Or rather, who constantly wriggled out of my grasp when I thought I knew who they were.  Coming from a work whose main message is the value of truly understanding things, this leaves me bemused.  On the other hand, this phenomenon turned the predictability of the middle-grade plot into something nice and reassuring instead of merely nostalgic.


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