Tess has known little in her 17 years but brutality, grief and fear: the angry fists of her blacksmith father, the infant graves of her siblings and the ominous prophetic visions she sees in flames. As Wilde Island teeters toward political collapse and a vicious witch-hunter sets her sights on Tess, she and her friends flee into Dragonswood, the forbidden abode of dragons and the fey folk. Even as they find refuge with a secretive woodward, the fairies keep calling to Tess… as if they had a duty only she could fulfill. Despite the romantic cover and lush, poetic prose, this is no adventure for the squeamish. Tess does not shy away from graphic descriptions of beatings, torture and grisly violence—and subtler betrayals, manipulation and callous disregard—that leave her scarred in body and soul. Yet for all her mistrust, self-loathing and cringing expectation of blows, Tess reveals a surprising strength and unflinching loyalty. While she does not extend an unrealistic forgiveness, she finds the courage to work with her abusers towards a greater goal; her tentative, hesitant love for the one person who treats her with kindness and respect is both touching and achingly bittersweet.
Painful, cathartic and cautiously hopeful; a fairy tale for those who have given up on believing in them, but still yearn for happily ever after. (Fantasy. 14 & up)
STARRED REVIEW Gr 7 Up—Set on Wilde Island a generation after Dragon's Keep (Harcourt, 2007), this story continues with a perfectly crafted combination of history, mythology, and fantasy. King Pendragon has died, and while the island waits for his eldest son to return from the Crusades, the power-hungry Lord Sackmore is becoming more and more of a threat to the future king. When Lady Adela, the witch hunter, comes to their little town, Tess and her two friends stand accused. Through their wits and the unexpected assistance of a dragon, they escape and flee into Dragonswood, which, although forbidden, is safer than the certain death they face at home. The tenuous peace among the humans, dragons, and fairies on the island is being threatened, and Tess, Poppy, and Meg seem caught in the middle. Tess has been keeping her fire-sight visions secret and it turns out that she is not the only one with secrets to keep. When one of the king's woodwards takes them in and offers them shelter, Tess cannot deny her feelings for him, even as she fears him and suspects that he has secrets of his own. The political intrigue, mythology of Merlin, and romances that bloom are all uncovered with precise timing and will have readers racing toward the end and then going back to savor the events more slowly. The story is complexly satisfying on its own, but readers will want to go back for Dragon's Keep as well and will look forward to the future of Wilde Island. — Genevieve Gallagher, Charlottesville High School, VA
The Dragonswood is off-limits, but Tess, who sees visions in firelight, is inexorably drawn there. Wrongly accused as witches, she and two friends escape into the forbidden heart of Wilde Island. There Tess meets an intriguing huntsman named Garth and discovers she is destined to be more than a blacksmith’s daughter. Paralleling Robin Hood, the island’s rightful heir is off fighting in the crusades, while a regent is doing his best to take over the throne. Humans, fairies, and dragons coexist in the lush setting (first introduced in Dragon’s Keep, 2007), which is so well drawn it practically serves as another character. As Franny Billingsley did in Chime (2011), Carey uses gorgeous, lyrical prose to illustrate a world of authentic period detail combined with fantastical elements. Although the supporting characters, especially the dragons, are well drawn, a first-person point of view keeps the focus squarely on Tess and her journey. This novel, a cross between fantasy and historical fiction, also has a touch of romance and will likely appeal to fans of many genres. — Charli Osborne