Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Land of the Silver Apples by Nancy Farmer

Jack’s sister, Lucy, is set to play an important role in the village’s need-fire ceremony, a rite intended to leave behind the evils of the old year and move into the new year with a fresh start. And the past year has had its share of evil, as readers will know from reading The Sea of Trolls, the first book in Nancy Farmer’s trilogy.

But when Jack’s father once again gives in to Lucy’s wailing, purposely permitting her to wear a forbidden necklace to the ceremony, Lucy allows old evil to creep into the new year. It spreads. It’s like a contagion, says the Bard, and it must be driven off before it affects everyone.

Giles Crookleg, Jack and Lucy’s father, then relates a story that he has kept hidden for years. After Lucy was born and her mother, Alditha, became sick, Giles took Lucy to the tanner’s wife for care. On the return trip he stopped to pick ripe hazelnuts, and while he was distracted, Lucy was kidnapped. But by some miracle, as he saw it, the child was replaced by another beautiful baby.

When seeking answers at St. Filian’s monastery, Jack’s unpolished bard skills cause an earthquake. In the ensuing chaos, Lucy (the one readers already know) is kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake, a close friend of the Queen of Elfland. The Lady also takes all the water from St. Filian’s well. Jack and Pega, a slave girl Jack recently freed, and another former slave named Brutus embark on a quest. Find Lucy. Find the replacement Lucy. Bring water back.

The second book of the trilogy introduces more mythical creatures. Jack and his fellow travelers encounter kelpies and a knucker hole and girl nearly buried in moss and even dragon poop. There are yarthkins and hobgoblins, including a king named Bugaboo and his Nemesis. And of course they travel to Elfland, meet elves, and learn the secrets behind the elves’ history and current lives.

Jack’s bard skills are growing, but as evidenced in the earthquake he causes, he’s far from being in control of them. Seeing Jack’s growth, both in character and skill, and the relationships he has with Thorgil – yes, she’s back for book two – and Pega, the freed slave girl, is a rewarding part of the book.

Overall The Land of the Silver Apples simply feels like the middle book of a trilogy. Lacking is the fresh shine and newness of the initial book and the anticipation created by an impending conclusion. If readers climbed a mountain in The Sea of Trolls, then The Land of the Silver Apples serves as a bridge to The Islands of the Blessed, where readers will embark on an exhilarating trip down to the (hopefully) fulfilling finale.

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