Coriander is a happy and contented child living in Cromwell’s England. She adores her enchanting mother and busy father. Then her mother falls ills, and Coriander’s world is turned upside down. Her father is a well-known Royalist, the enemy of the ruling Roundheads, and well-meaning friends take advantage of his overwhelming grief to quickly remarry him to a strongly Puritan woman so that his estate will not be taken away from him. The stepmother, Maud, is a horrible woman, who removes all of the light and happiness from Coriander’s life, including her own name. But Coriander’s mother had a secret: she was originally from the fairy world, and when Coriander is no longer able to endure in this world, she is transported to the land of fairy. This isn’t necessarily a rescue, however, for there are still dangers, in both worlds, that are acting against Coriander and everything she believes in.
This book is extremely well-written, with beautiful prose and word choice. However, I felt that the plot was somewhat lacking. There were too many places where the reader was left to simply accept circumstances because it advanced the plot. On the one hand the author tried hard to create characters that the reader will resonante with and respond to, but on the other hand, those same characters appeared to make descision that were out of character, or made no real sense. Pretty much everything that Coriander’s father does, for example, is hard to explain away, even if he is almost crazy with grief. I thought the characters were somewhat shallow. The villains have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, to the point that they are almost cariacatures of themselves. Why anyone would have allowed them into Coriander’s house is unbelievably convenient for the plot. Similarly, none of the “good” characters have any major faults (assuming we overlook the fact that Coriander’s father repeatedly abandons her for political reasons.) This simply isn’t realistic.
I also disliked the Tycho subplot. I’m already biased in that I don’t enjoy plots with “love at first sight”. Sure, you can be smitten with someone, infatuated, but true love comes with knowing the person, spending time in their company. To go for years pining after someone you have spent less than half an hour with is not realistic. The “romance”, such as it is, only takes up a few pages, and really has very little to do with the plot other than ensuring a completley happy ending and some mild tension in the last three or four pages of the book. In a book aimed at the younger crowd, it is completely unnecessary. Many younger girls aren’t necessarily interested in romance yet.
There were some parts to enjoy in the book. As I said, it has wonderful writing. The alligator was sufficiently scary, and Coriander’s early years were interesting (though many readers will probably complain that it gets the story off to a slow start.) I liked the historical setting, and appreciated the author’s note at the end giving more details.