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Monica Furlong – Wise Child

September 27, 2010

Re-read. Wise Child by Monica Furlong (1987)
Dorans, Book 2

Length: 240 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Originally Read: 23 July 2005
Re-read Finished: 11 September 2010

Where did it come from? It must have been from a used bookstore, but I acquired it before I was diligent about keeping track of these sorts of things.
Why do I have it? I loved Juniper as a child and was excited to find out there were sequels.

Juniper’s magic
is more than teaching Wise Child
how to be a witch.

Summary: When Wise Child’s grandmother died, there was no one in the small Celtic village to take her in: her mother had abandoned her and her father was frequently gone on long sea voyages. She is taken in by Juniper, who was a friend of her father’s, but is widely feared among the village folk as a witch. Wise Child’s afraid to leave the village and go live with Juniper in her house on the cliff, but under Juniper’s warm and loving care, she soon comes to feel at home. Juniper teaches Wise Child to read, write, tend the herbs in the garden that are used to cure the ill, and the beginnings of her magical lore. However, Wise Child isn’t truly safe, for her mother, the powerful sorceress Maeve, wants to control her, and the village priest is becoming increasingly intolerant of Juniper’s presence. If she ever wants to live safely and happily, Wise Child will first have to determine where her loyalties truly lie.

Review: From what I can gather, it seems as though whether people love Wise Child (published first) or Juniper (a prequel, published second) more is entirely dependent on which one they read first. Since I read Juniper (repeatedly) as a child, and only found out that sequels existed once I was well into my twenties, Juniper gets my devotion.

Wise Child is a good read, though, don’t get me wrong. It – like Juniper – is an interesting blend of historical fiction with some very plausible fantasy elements woven in. Both books also have a very sensible worldview about life and death and magic and power and love woven through them, motivating the story without beating you over the head with its Morals. The writing’s geared for mid-grade readers, but doesn’t feel facile to an adult, and the tone of the book manages to be simultaneously light and serious, when appropriate.

Wise Child loses to Juniper on two fronts, though. First, the title character manages to be even brattier than Juniper was at the start of her book, and even by the end, she’s never entirely un-bratty. Secondly, the plot didn’t seem to hang together very well; the danger that motivates most of the middle of the book is not the danger that eventually leads to the climax, making the whole thing feel a little episodic and disjointed. Overall, though, it’s a quick-reading and enjoyable mid-grade fantasy, and I’m sad that this series isn’t more widely appreciated. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I’d recommend this to kids (and adults!) who like historical fantasy, stories involving witch trials, or ancient Britain.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Reading Rants
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Juniper was different from us.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 23: “In one corner was a quern in which I would laboriously grind out meal.” – a primitive, hand-operated mill for grinding grain.
    .
  • p. 87: “Women in the village either made clothes in the dull-brown color you got from dyeing with crotal, of else they wove precious fabrics in red, white, and black, the colors of the Holy Trinity.” – any of various lichens used in dyeing wool, esp for the manufacture of tweeds.
    .
  • p. 136: “Jeannie came in to make up the fire, and I persuaded her to stay and play a game of brandub with me.” – an ancient Celtic board game played on a checkered or latticed board with two teams of uneven strength.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 8:44 am

    I’ve never heard of this series, but I’m happy you liked it. The cover art is wickedly beautiful, though–does the cover list an artist?

    • October 13, 2010 9:20 am

      Omni – I never think to check, but I will when I get home.

  2. September 27, 2010 10:09 am

    Too bad it didn’t bring back the childhood delight you had hoped for.

    • October 13, 2010 9:20 am

      bermudaonion – It’s a rare book that can match a childhood favorite, though.

  3. September 27, 2010 12:44 pm

    I read Wise Child a good two years before I read Juniper, and I liked them both a lot. I don’t think I could say which one was my favorite – it all depends on my mood. Did you ever read Furlong’s Robin Hood book? I think it was called Robin’s Country, something like that, and it was charming.

    • October 13, 2010 9:21 am

      Jenny – No, I don’t think I knew she had a Robin Hood book. I’ll have to be on the lookout for it!

  4. September 28, 2010 10:10 am

    I’m so glad you’ve mentioned these: I’ve had them on my shelves for years, and this kind of enthusiasm definitely nudges them up the monstrous TBR list!

    • October 13, 2010 9:22 am

      BIP – Oh, I hope you’ll like them! They’re quick reads, regardless, so you could knock a few off the pile in not a lot of time. :)

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