Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

9780385753548In an afternoon, Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy carried me off to a magical world of good and evil, involved me in an adventure to save the world, made me laugh and cry, and restored my faith – in a way only a good children’s book can.  Coping with the recent death of her mother, Ophelia inadvertently becomes a major character in an updated version of the Snow Queen fairy tale three days before Christmas.

The story opens with a prelude describing the evil Queen who has captured and imprisoned the Marvelous Boy; centuries pass and Ophelia discovers the Boy locked in a room in the museum where her father, the world’s greatest expert on swords, is staging an exhibition that will open on Christmas Eve.  Through wonderful scenes of mannequins coming to life, giant birds eating sardines, and a wolf chase, Ophelia searches for the missing sword that will destroy the evil Queen who would plunge the world into misery and grief forever.  Of course, Ophelia is successful as she finally listens to her heart (and the advice of her mother’s memory) and finds the courage to help her father and sister begin their recovery from grief.

When reading this, although those analogies of inner demons freezing out hearts and the discovery of the heroine inside,  floated between the lines to my adult brain, I ignored them and thoroughly enjoyed the story as a real fairy tale.  Throughout the tale, Ophelia’s dead mother whispers advice, and I couldn’t help think how much my own dead mother’s advice is still very much there – she is still in my head too.

 

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A Dangerous Inheritance – A Novel of Tudor Rivals

Alison Weir uses the plight of two teenage girls caught in the politics of Tudor England to explain the mysterious death of a young king and his brother in A Dangerous Inheritance – A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower.

Katherine Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of the usurping King Richard III, and Katherine Grey, sister to Lady Jane, who ruled as Queen for nine days before Catholic Mary arrested her and claimed the throne, enjoyed the life of court at least seventy years apart, yet they connect with unlikely commonalities in Alison Weir’s historical fiction.

The plot alternates between the narratives of the two Katherines; although one is identified as Kate, and Weir dates the entries, you may need to consult English history to place the action that is often plodding and confusing. Both young girls are pawns in their families’ ambitions and greed for the power of the throne, and Weir offers personal glimpses into how their lives were overwhelmed by events. As each girl emerges from their naive innocence, blind loyalty changes into self-preservation.

To connect the two girls, Weir uses the mystery of young King Edward V and his brother, the imprisoned Princes in the Tower, both nephews of Richard III. Both girls also find themselves imprisoned in the Tower – at different points in history but basically for the same reason – they are all viewed as threats to the royal power.
Weil has the girls investigating the deaths of the Princes, while each is trying to survive in her own time.

The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower

Weir’s use of fifteenth century dialect in the girls’ narrations becomes tedious after a while, and 500 pages is a long time to listen.  The history is unveiled slowly and the “mystery” gets lost in the descriptions of court life and the worries about loyalties, dissembling, and who will be next to lose a head.  Despite the four pages of genealogy charts, the relationship of the characters is not easy to keep straight; basically, they are all related somehow but the many Janes, Elizabeths, and Katherines, and the switching back and forth across a century require concentration.  After conscientiously including every detail and courtier of the era, Weil finally focuses the action in the final 100 pages on the mysterious disappearance of the two young princes.

Weil is an expert of these times, having written at least a dozen nonfiction books, including one on “The Princes of the Tower.”  If you like long slow reads with that Tudor Flavor, A Dangerous Inheritance will educate you on yet another piece of that turbulent time, but you will need patience to plow through the complicated history.