September 13, 2005

A Devil of a Bear

"In my land we have a saying," said the pilgrim. "A man should not care if a bee buzzes in his ear or if a child babbles at his feet."

"I don't think I care for that saying," said Clovermead. "The tone is very superior, very lofty. It sounds very silly coming from a young man who can't be much older than I am. Did people say that a lot to you when you were younger? It must have been very annoying to hear it from a grown-up on a regular basis."

David Randall's Clovermead: In the Shadow of the Bear is the story of the most complex twelve-year old characters I've come across in recent readings. Verbally astute one moment, infuriatingly hyperactive another, Clovermead is the innkeeper's only child, and the darling of the poky old village of Timothy Vale. Clovermead wants nothing more than adventure, and she forever pesters the pilgrims who pass on their way to Snowchapel, the high mountain retreat, to tell her about their lives, about the fighting further South, about anything. She longs to be a spy, a fighter, a thief -- and one day, she gets her wish.

I like Randall's characterization of this indomitable cub who roars and rips her way through the pages of this book. Even as she realizes that the life she's known has all been a lie, even as she is betrayed, fearful and angry, her spirit is an indistinguishable spark. She is known to herself, and her internal wisdom knows that she is strong. The choices she makes are because of who she is. Clovermead makes a deal with evil, in the form of Lord Ursus, a bear, because she longs for the power of bears, the ability to make others afraid. She hates being a little girl who is only lied to and shuffled around. It would make life easier if she could bite.

Ultimately, Clovermead chooses to bite - but Randall grants her grace with giving her the ability to change her mind and to know her own heart. Just because we give in to it once, evil doesn't always win forever. With the lightest hand possible, Randall makes the point that choosing wrongly isn't always a permanent "and everyone died" mistake, and that immense strength and power to destroy isn't inherently only something aligned with evil.

This was a complex, bright and interesting new book, and I look forward to seeing what else this writer, who is currently finishing his Ph.D. in British history, can produce.

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