The Unready Queen (Algonquin Young Readers, June 2020) is the second installment in William Ritter’s Oddmire, a middle grade fantasy series starring “twin” brothers Cole and Tinn, their mother Annie, and their friends from the town at the edge of the Wild Wood.
In the first book (Changeling, 2019), we learned identical-looking Cole and Tinn aren’t really twins—rather, one of them is a goblin left behind from a botched changeling job. Goblin magic is so thorough, not even their own mother could tell them apart. Now, however, the truth has been revealed and while one boy spends his time learning Goblish shanties and spellwork, the other has started to feel left behind.
Fable is the opposite—in addition to being the daughter of the Witch of the Wood, aka The Queen of the Deep Dark, she’s a human changeling. As a child, she was stolen by goblins and sold to faeries, where she seemed to have absorbed a bit of their magic before being . . . um, returned . . . to her human mother living deep within the Oddmire. Fable has also been taking lessons—lessons that will help her become the new queen when her mother is no longer there to reign over the wood. And . . . they haven’t been going so well. While Fable’s power seems to eclipse her mother’s in almost every way, her ability to control it is far more limited. Also, it’s boring. She’d much prefer having adventures with her friends Tinn and Cole, and their new pal, Evie.
Evie lives in the town at the edge of the Oddmire and has always been fascinated with the magical creatures living beyond her back door. She finds these illusive beings so fascinating, she’s made a study of them, complete with notes and sketches bound within her very own magical compendium. When Evie meets Fable, she’s thrilled to have a new friend who can help her fill in some of the blanks and maybe even introduce her to the creature that fascinates her most of all: The Queen of the Deep Dark.
Raina, aka The Queen of the Deep Dark, aka the Witch of the Wood, aka Fable’s mother, has no interest in mixing with humans and doesn’t want her daughter mixing with them, either. Humans and magical creatures alike have caused her family nothing but heartache over the years. So when a water sprite shows Raina a glimpse of the future—Fable, covered in blood and ash, turning toward the sound of one of their human gunshots—she’s determined to keep her daughter from the dangers they present.
And then a stranger comes to town.
Jacob Hill, surveyor and prospector, has come to the village at the edge of the wood looking for new oil reserves. When his rig is attacked by magical creatures, he vows revenge, and sweeps the townspeople into an anti-magical fervor the likes of which it has never seen before, and soon it’s all-out war between human and magic kind.
But Fable, Cole, Tinn, and Evie each consider themselves a part of both worlds, and they more than anyone know what stands to be lost if either side erases the other. It’s up to them to bridge the gap and force both sides to see reason before the queen’s terrible vision becomes a reality, and both sides lose more than they ever thought possible.
Changeling, the first book in William Ritter’s Oddmire series, contained entertaining and light-hearted adventure along with all the familiar fantasy elements, and illustrated the surprising power of love and family. This second installment hits all the same notes while expanding to explore the power of friendship, community, allyship, and what it means to consider the needs of others in addition to your own. Young readers (10-13+) with a penchant for fantasy—think Jinx (Blackwood), The Dark Lord Clementine (Horwitz), or The Witches of Willow Cove (Roberts)—will likely enjoy this quirky series by Ritter, who is also the author of the Jackaby series.
Additionally, middle grade writers may want to take note of the way the series “breaks” the modern convention of excluding adult point of view characters from middle grade fiction. Several characters including the twins’ mother Annie, the Queen, and one or two other ‘adult’ magical creatures are given page their own page time. It’s worth a read to explore why, in this case, the author and publishers chose a narrative path often considered taboo for writers of kidlit.
Are there other recent titles you can think of that “break” the NO ADULTS rule in middle grade fiction, and if so, is it clear why the author made that choice? Did you agree with it? What do you think generally about adult POVs in kidlit?
(I obtained an eARC of this title via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)