This was a wonderful story that I’m sure I would absolutely love if I were around ten years old! As as adult, I found it a nice read but not quite there for me (hard to put my finger on why, though). Perhaps it’s the multiple viewpoints, that kept me from feeling entirely engaged in the story. It’s about a dangerous forest and a suppressed town. The forest is on the slopes of mumbling volcanoes, full of hot vents and vast bogs and other tricky features to be avoided. The townspeople are held under the thumb of a ruling Council of Elders and an even more oppressive group of Sisters who live cloistered in a tower and forbid access to their library (that alone tells you they’re evil). The townspeople live in fear of a witch in the forest- every year they leave a baby in a clearing to appease her. Some of them don’t believe there really is a witch, and think the baby gets eaten by wild animals. Two of the alternate storylines are from people in this town- a woman who protests when her baby is taken, goes mad with grief and is locked up, and a young man from the Council who objects to the baby sacrifices and starts really questioning things.
The other storyline follows one baby that was left in the clearing. And the witch who comes for her. The witch Xan isn’t terrible as the townspeople have been told- she’s actually very kind, and baffled at why these people keep abandoning their children! She always rescues the babies and takes them to cities on the other side of the dangerous forest, where they are adopted into happy families. But this one baby- Luna- is accidentally fed magical moonlight during the journey. When Xan realizes what happened, she decides she has to raise Luna herself. Luna’s body has become infused with the magic, which spills out uncontrollably and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing things (like the baby in Incredibles). This is funny at first, then really hazardous, so Xan performs a spell to lock the magic up inside Luna until she turns thirteen. It’s so effective that Luna can’t even hear the word “magic” spoken in her presence, and promptly forgets everything Xan tells her regarding it. So Xan’s plan to teach Luna how to handle magic and do spells until her power is unlocked, fails. Luna grows up not knowing who she is, basically lied to her whole life so far by the person who loves her most and is trying to protect her. Lies of love, in contrast to the lies for control and manipulation told to the townspeople.
This book has a lot of really great aspects- on the surface it’s an imaginative tale set in a world steeped with magic, with a spunky young heroine who reminded me of Ronia. There’s some lovely wordplay, a silly miniature dragon (that made me think immediately of Anne McCaffrey’s fire–lizards, although this Fyrian is unique to himself) and a friendly bog monster that loves poetry. There’s also a completely duplicitous evil witch in the town who thrives on the pain of others, paper-folded birds that come to life, and so much more. I kept thinking (in a lovely way) of other stories certain details reminded me of- how Xan feeds the babies starlight brought to mind A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle, where an infant unicorn drinks moon- and starlight. The theme of family is so strong in this book, and the aspect of Xan’s power waning as Luna’s grows- that reminded me how the ederly dragon transferred its knowledge in The Last Dragon. I also kept thinking of imagery from Mirrormask, though here again, couldn’t quite tell you why. It’s been too long since I’ve seen that.