After one of my students told me I had to read this, because it was her favorite childhood books (and I trust her sense of literature) I finally picked up one of Gail Carson Levine‘s novels:The Two Princesses of Bamarre, in which the author weaves a fairy tale tapestry which possesses many epic conventions similar to Tolkien–albeit in a somewhat simplified format than Tolkien, more like C.S. Lewis.
In the beautiful–if poorly run–kingdom of Bamarre, two princesses grow up together, though they are very different. Meryl is strong, adventurous, and yearns to fight dragons and rule Bamarre justly. Addie is nearly the opposite: quiet and rather timid–she excels at embroidery, and shies away from the mere thought of swordplay. The sisters remain very close, living a somewhat sheltered life, that is, until Meryl contracts the Gray Death, and everything changes.
The Gray Death, an incurable plague, attacks seemingly at random, without warning, and without hope. Despite this, Addie resolves that somehow she will find the cure to save her sister. With occasional aid from Rhys (a wizard whom Addie fancies), and knowing of the myriad dangers which pervade the countryside, such as shades, gryphons, ogres, and dragons, Addie must gain courage and venture forth to find the cure.
Sprinkled throughout the book are passages from the Bamarrian epic Drualt, about a hero who saved the kingdom and inspires Meryl and Addie; this adds to the atmosphere and the setting, authenticating it with a rich history. This was a quick read, but very engaging and enjoyable. I look forward to reading more of Levine’s works.