Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Synopsis: The most important thing is Deportment. At the Ellicott School for the Magically Minded Maiden, it is what Miss Flivvers gently forces into maidenly minds. Without Deportment, maidens like Chantel Goldenrod wouldn't know how to sit or to stand or to speak, nor would they know that their best bet was to be 'shamefast and biddable.'
Life has a certain symmetry, even within the confines of School. The Patriarchs send the money, the cook sends the single male factotum, Bowser, to fetch the groceries, and the girls are fed. Not great food, but any number of baked potatoes, so all is well, as far as Chantel is concerned. The city of Lightning Pass needs the magically minded sorceresses-in-training at Miss Ellicott's school to do the hard spellwork of protecting the City from the Marauders, the tribe who live beyond the wall and are simply waiting to attack and carry them off... but Miss Elliott knows that the worst thing would be if the men of the City were frightened of her girls. Chantel's been taught all of this, yes, but the courtesies and nonsense really get up her nose. She just. wants. to. do. magic. Big magic! Wild magic! Possibly loud and dangerous magic! However, she knows better than to balk too much. Miss Ellicott's not too bad a sort, after all, she did tell Chantel that she was The Chosen One... of course, when Miss Ellicott mysteriously vanishes, Chantel finds out that she also told that to Anna, Leila, Daisy, Holly, too...
The Patriarchs without the sorceresses, have no means to protect the City - yet they're in charge. When it turns out that ALL of the sorceresses have vanished, that also means there are no shipments of food coming in from the other side of the Maurauder's Wall, no money for food, and no order in their lives. The mad caretaker the Patriarchs sends wants to sell the girls as slaves. Clearly, Chantel needs to save the sorceresses - and the School - and the City - and possibly the world.
Observations: Though Chantel is written as thirteen, this is probably an adventure type fantasy which will read well for ten-through-twelve as well. This is a familiar and beloved trope for middle grade: smart, feisty girl escapes adult expectations, finds her power, and saves the world. That Chantel is written and pictured as a brown-skinned heroine is even more interesting, though it is only marginally referred to, and doesn't seem to affect how anyone sees her or interacts with her. Chantel is very much the central character in the novel, as Anna and Bowser and Franklin we never learn quite as much about. There is so much detail, though, that readers won't find that a problem. The City of Lightning Pass itself is lovingly described, and the aspects of magic are clearly laid out throughout the book, so the reader is left with few, questions.
This book has the richly detailed worldbuilding and labyrinthine plotting of a serious fantasy novel, but may frustrate younger readers, because Chantel is not in for an Easy Win. She wants desperately to CHANGE THE WORLD... and she's met with pushback from her trusted teachers, who encourage her to believe that the King has all the answers, even though he has zero magic and hasn't himself been where Chantel has gone, from the literal patriarchy in the form of the Patriarchs, who chase her down for her own "protection," from the Marauders, who indeed show up and make trouble, and from her own brain, as what she's been taught to be and what she thinks makes sense to do is disrupted by the squirming in her own head (Snakes... well, never mind. You'll have to read that for yourself). While Chantel is visibly and obviously flawed, eventually - after a bit of self-study - she works things out. The adults, however, are jolly stupid in this book - and Chantel is betrayed frequently by them. When she stops being baffled by the perfidy of adults is when she finally figures out how to change things - thus making the entire book a metaphor for how a magically minded - or a mundanely minded - young lady ought to get on in the world.
Conclusion: I was intrigued by the deportment rules; girls were to be 'shamefast' and biddable. Shamefaced isn't a word, I thought, but it is! It's from Middle English shamefast, schamefast, schamfast, sceomefest, from Old English sċeamfæst, scamfæst and means: “modest, shy, bashful.” I'd say Who knew!? but clearly the author did - so I learned something there. Recommended for serious readers who enjoy a story of a girl who stands tall - and proudly on the right side of history, because she's making it - in the end.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Newark Public Library. You can find MISS ELLICOTT'S SCHOOL FOR THE MAGICALLY MINDED by Sage Blackwood at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!