Ibbotson (Journey to the River Sea) turns stereotypical portrayals of fairy tale figures on their head in this hilarious account of a princess's rescue. The fun begins when a clan of displaced magical creatures—a hag, a troll, and a wizard—is recruited to save young Princess Mirella from her captor, the "dreaded Ogre of Oglefort." However, when the team, accompanied by an orphan boy, Ivo, arrives at Oglefort Castle, they quickly learn that it's the tired and sickly ogre who needs liberation. In an attempt to avoid the horrible fate of marrying a "nitwit" of a prince, Mirella has been browbeating the ogre, demanding he change her into a bird. After the truth is sorted out, the rescuers devise new goals that include nurturing the ogre back to health and warding off intruders—like the regiment of soldiers led by Mirella's fiancé. Fans of the author, who died in 2010, will find a gratifying mix of fresh material and traditional Ibbotson goodies: plenty of humorous twists, clever dialogue, an all's well that ends well conclusion, and, of course, cameo appearances by ghosts. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
The Hag misses her dreary home in the Dribble, but she is relatively happy running the boardinghouse for displaced Unusual Creatures. The Troll has lost his forest to human development as she had lost the swampy Dribble. The Wizard is able to avoid his overbearing mother. All look forward to the annual meeting of Unusual Creatures where they will learn of the Summer Task, usually more a vacation than actual work. But Gladys, the Hag's toad familiar, refuses to go. Desperately looking for a familiar, the Hag decides to temporarily use Ivo, the young orphan from down the street. Things do not go well at the annual meeting. After the Task is announced, the Norns appear and change the Task. Instead of visiting a holiday camp, the Unusual Creatures must save Princess Mirella from the dreaded Ogre of Oglefort. After the announcement, everyone leaves for refreshments, everyone that is except the Hag and her friends who have no money. Unfortunately, they are the only ones seen by the Norns and are obligated to accept the Task. Fearful of what awaits, they set off to Ostland. However, they are in for surprises as the Ogre proves to be docile, Mirella does not want to be rescued, and each rescuer finds his heart's desire. This delightful fantasy is a joy to read. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—In post-World War II Britain, as their lands have been taken over by modern industry, hags, trolls, wizards, and other magical beings have been forced to move to the cities and find menial jobs. The one bright spot in an otherwise drab existence is the annual Summer Meeting of Unusual Creatures. The Hag of the Dribble, who runs a boardinghouse in the middle of London, is beside herself when her familiar, a tired old toad, won't go. Her young neighbor Ivo has an idea—he will serve as her familiar so she can attend the meeting and he can get away from the orphanage. The meeting at the luxury hotel starts off routinely enough, but the Norns—the three Fates—unexpectedly appear to announce that the summer task will be rescuing Princess Mirella from the terrifying Ogre of Oglefort, and the Hag and Ivo, along with their troll and wizard companions, find themselves charged with slaying him. Surprises are in store, though, including the fact that that the princess is there voluntarily to escape a planned marriage (she wants the ogre to turn her into a bird), and the ogre is suffering from severe depression. Adding to the complications, Mirella's parents send an army to rescue their daughter, and the Norns enlist the help of some bad-tempered ghosts when they feel that the Hag and her group are not moving quickly enough. Ibbotson's fans will find plenty to like with her signature quirky characters, twisty plot, and happy resolution that underscores the many forms friendship can take.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
A motley group hesitantly forms a princess-rescuing team and ends up in the last place they expected.
In a post–World War II London still recovering from the Blitz lives a Hag who's been dislodged from her Dribble (a water meadow where "the damp air is so soft"). At a meetingfor Unusual People, three partially-asleep norns assign the Hag, a troll, a self-doubting wizard and a open-hearted orphan to go to "an island as big as England and Scotland and Wales all put together" to rescue Princess Mirella from a flesh-eating ogre. They make the journey, befriend Mirella and take over the ogre's castle while the text calmly upends conventions and expectations: Mirella's no damsel-in-distress after all, and the ogre's more petulant and beleaguered than flesh-hungry. From Hag to ogre to misinformed norns to a previously-human gnu, Ibbotson's characters are non-glamorous and wistful but all the more human for it. Although soldiers try to kidnap Mirella, the real challenge for these mixed-age protagonists is sadness. The plot never flags or becomes sentimental; humor and gross-out tidbits (medicine made from used foot-washing water) pop up amid delicious turns of phrase (a dead salamander looks "like a very troubled banana which had died in its sleep"). Humility trumps grandness here; meanwhile, the castle becomes a home.
An offbeat, matter-of-fact journey from displacement to an idyllic homestead. (Illustrations not seen.)(Fantasy. 8-11)