Bingo Square (Round 2): Award Winner (Newbery Medal)
While I picked this novel up because of bothari43’s review (and cat picture), I’m using it for the Award Winner category. Overall, the tone reminded me quite a bit of Terry Pratchett aimed at a younger audience. I’ve only read two Pratchett novels so others more familiar with his work may not agree with that assessment but it certainly felt like that to me. I just felt like Xan, Glerk, Fyrian, Antain (and his uncle), and Luna would have fit right in with the characters in Discworld, and while the Elders are portrayed as bad, there is also something about them that seems very satirical and stodgy which I think is another thing that made me think of Pratchett. They go along with the ceremony and the seriousness of it all, not because they believe what they are doing is right because it helps them stay in power and keep the people oppressed.
The majority of the novel concerns the Protectorate, a community run by a Council of Elders with the support of the Sisters of the Star. Every year, the Elders lead a procession to the home of the youngest baby in the town/village, since that child must be left at the edge of the wood as a sacrifice to the Witch. It is not sure what the witch does with the children, whether she uses them in blood rituals and sacrifices or simply enslaves them but they continue the annual sacrifice for the sake of the community. As a result, the whole Protectorate carries a cloud of sorrow since most families have lost at least one child to this yearly tradition, and rather than feeling joy at starting a family, young couples must always worry about the timing of the birth of their children in comparison to the other families.
While some members of the Council don’t believe there is a witch and rather view the Day of Sacrifice as a way to keep the populace oppressed, they are wrong. Xan, the witch, makes sure to come to woods outside the Protectorate every year to save an abandoned infant. She has no idea why there is a child every year or what is going on, but she sees it as her responsibility to rescue these children, and take them to the Free Cities to be adopted by a loving family – in fact, in the Free Cities, this is an annual day of celebration. Since she can’t carry enough milk, she feeds the children with star light which helps bring out the best in them. Rather than growing up surrounded by sorrow, these children thrive, live happy lives, and are blessed pillars of the community.
At least this is how it usually goes until Xan falls particularly in love with one child, accidentally feeds her moon light and thus makes her magical. One can’t leave an enmagicked child with a normal family, so now Xan, her tiny dragon and Glerk, the ancient monster from the Bog, have a new family member in baby Luna.
As can be expected in these types of novels, the presence of a special child mean that there will be some upheaval in the status quo, and that history and secrets will be unearthed. As a parallel to Luna, Antain remains in the Protectorate. Recruited to train for the Council at age 13, he was there when Luna was taken from her mother, and spends the next five years avoiding his official duties on the Day of Sacrifice until finally resigning from the Council. He was only doing it to meet the expectations of his mother and uncle, anyway, being far too kind and thoughtful to be a part of the Council. As Luna grows up, Antain matures into a young man in the Protectorate, though Luna’s mother and her fate is never far from his mind.
It’s a sweet novel with many well meaning characters, while also having its moments of darkness. One of the messages is definitely the concept of hope and how easy it can be to become oppressed by sorrow. The novel shows two extremes – Xan forgets her past in her desire to avoid sorrow while the Protectorate becomes so oppressed by its cloud of sorrow that they see no way out and blindly submit to a corrupt council.
Despite this, there is simply something that was slightly missing for me and maybe it was simply my age. It’s well written, woven together beautifully, and yet I only liked it rather than loving it. I may have simply had unrealistic expectations given the rave reviews.
Bingo Square: Award Winner