By Valerie Gribben
NewSouth Books, 2010
Young Adult Fiction
Reviewed by Beth WilderFantasy books are all the rage among young adult readers, but rarely is one of those books actually written by a young adult. Until now. Valerie Gribben, a UAB medical student, has penned a fast-paced, intriguing fantasy series, the first of which was written when she was only sixteen years old.
The Fairytale Trilogy, out just in time for holiday gift giving, is a collection of Gribben’s three novellas: Fairytale, The Emperor’s Realm, and The Three Crowns. The stories follow the adventures of young Marianne and her brother, Robin, as they come of age in an enchanted land. The books are fairy tales in the classic sense, full of talking frogs, magical wizards, dangerous quests, and royal conspiracies. But Gribben writes with a decidedly contemporary flair. Thoroughly modern Marianne is a feminist, and her desire to follow her own heart clashes with the wishes of her family, who demand that she conform to the constraints of a traditional royal marriage.
In the first book, Marianne is rescued on the eve of her wedding by her long-lost brother, Robin, and the two of them fly away on a dragon to discover their true identities and the destiny that awaits them as half-humans/half-fairies. The siblings find themselves wandering in a far-away exotic land full of magic and mystery in The Emperor’s Realm, before heading home in the final installment, The Three Crowns, to discover the conspiracy and danger that await them.
The books are fast-paced page-turners, full of mystery and laced with sly wit. A new plot twist or fantastic character appears on almost every page, keeping the reader engaged and definitely wanting more. The precocious Gribben writes with a maturity and sense of humor that is not condescending to younger readers. She definitely understands her audience, and she appreciates their ability to grasp adult ideas while reading a truly fun fantasy.
I passed the book among my thirteen-year-old daughter and her friends, and it received rave reviews from all. Words like “awesome,” “thrilling,” and “wickedly cool” were the most common responses. The only problem for Gribben is that they all want more—and soon. If the author can find the time between medical school classes and labs to pen some more literary magic, she will make many young readers happy. And probably a few moms, too. Dec 2010
Beth Wilder is president and executive director of The Literacy Council in Birmingham.