Title: I, Coriander
Author: Sally Gardner
Publisher: Dial Books
# of Pages: 287
Coriander grows up in a cheerful, happy home with parents who love each other and her and a nanny/maid who is kind, protective and friendly. This happy life begins to fall apart, though, when Coriander receives a pair of silver shoes for her sixth birthday, puts them on, and is transported to a faerie realm. She is only there a short while, but when she returns, bad things start happening. The King of England- Charles I- is beheaded and the Puritan regime takes over. Her family is royalist and life becomes dangerous for them. Her beloved mother passes away, and her father remarries a horrible woman for political purposes. But then he must leave the country, being a royalist, and Coriander is left with her evil stepmother and her stepmother's friend Arise Fell with little help from those around her. And when she accidentally returns to the faerie realm, she finds that things there aren't going so well, either. Coriander must somehow overcome all the difficulties facing her to save her father, her mother's memory, and the realm of Faerie.
Wow, for a short children's novel, this one has quite the plotline! I left out some key characters and side plots above, too. I think I'm still not sure how much information to put into plot summaries. I try to put as little as possible to get the plot across, as I don't want to ruin the story for potential readers. But then I feel as though I am leaving out crucial information, too! Not sure I have the balance right yet.
I really enjoyed Sally Gardner's book The Red Necklace. I did not like its sequel The Silver Blade quite as much, and I think I like I, Coriander even less. That's not to say I dislike I, Coriander. I just don't think much is holding up to The Red Necklace. I had pretty high expectations!
I think some of the plots in this book were oversimplified or glanced over. I don't think the fact that it's a children's novel can really be used as an excuse, either, as there are many excellent children's novels that have complexity and depth. The main one that seems to have upset most readers is Coriander's father's decision to marry, and then to escape England for the continent, leaving his daughter with a woman he knew was a horror. The love that existed between Coriander's mother and father was obvious and really touching, through the first parts of the story. So it was a bit jarring when he remarried, and when he chose someone so horrible. Perhaps he was enchanted into doing it, but afterward, when he left England for the safety of France, he could have taken his daughter with him. It seemed callous and very out-of-character for him to just leave her behind.
I also would have preferred more time in the Faerie realm, but I guess that's just my personal taste. I think stories that involve that whole alternate reality of Faerie, with people who never age, and balls and sinister villains who seem so nice but draw you in... they're fabulous. I love them. However, Coriander doesn't spend all that much time in Faerie, just brief snatches, and that saddened me.
I think Gardner did a good job of portraying England under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While the Puritan faction was portrayed very negatively, I think she captured the underlying tension and fear of ordinary citizens very well. They were all nervous about how people would perceive them, and were trying very hard to just get by, regardless of the political climate. I like that Gardner didn't talk down to her audience on this point, but let them see the confusion 17th century England for what it was. It would be interesting, I think, to see how all those Royalists reacted to Charles II's behavior :-)
I think this was a good Read-a-Thon pick for me because it was pretty light reading and had a fast-moving plot. Also, the font was nice and big :-) I don't know that I would recommend it without reservation; if you want to try Sally Gardner, I would recommend The Red Necklace instead of this one. But if you want a feel for Cromwellian England, with a bit of Faerie dust thrown in, then this might be a good pick.