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Once Upon a Marigold
Jean Ferris
Harcourt, 266 pages

Once Upon a Marigold
Jean Ferris
Jean Ferris is the author of the novels Love Among the Walnuts and Eight Seconds, both winners of an ALA Best Book for Young Adults Award, and the New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age. Ms. Ferris is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects: living with a deaf parent (Of Sound Mind), facing the consequences of a criminal act (Bad), or questioning one's sexuality (Eight Seconds), and isalso adept at writing comedy, historical fiction, and romance. She lives in San Diego, California.

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Synopsis of books by Jean Ferris

Eight Seconds: 1, 2, 3
Of Sound Mind: 1, 2

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

In Once Upon a Marigold, Jean Ferris abandons the teen angst novel and returns to the long-loved form of the fairy tale. Here we find all the standards of this form: youngest of three princesses, beautiful but headstrong, princess Marigold is blessed (or cursed as one might see it) with a special fairy gift, and has a habit of rejecting suitors; the conniving step-mother who dabbles with poisons and the Dark Arts and, who naturally will stop at nothing to attain power; the seemingly befuddled but likeable old king; and finally, a dashing young hero with a mysterious past, raised by a troll, and whose hobby it is to invent gadgets. As you'd expect, the mean step-mother is defeated and the hero and princess meet and live happily ever after, but it's how Ms. Ferris takes us there that is the charm of the book. This is neither one of those classic but moralizing tales from Andrew Lang's variously coloured Fairy Books of the Edwardian era, nor, while there are some parallels, William Golding's somewhat slapstick The Princess Bride.

Lost in the woods, or more exactly having seemingly escaped the constraints of a Titus Groan-like, mired in protocol existence, the young Christian is rescued by an ornery but loving troll, who raises him isolated from human society. When Christian gets his hands on a telescope and spies the lovely princess across the river in the castle, he discovers that his interest in his own kind is definitely not dead. A short pigeon-post correspondence, and Christian and Marigold are the best of friends, with Christian taking a menial job in the castle to be closer to her; but when Christian discovers the evil step-mother's plan to force Marigold to be married off or alternatively assassinated, he steps into action, well at least long enough for the not-so-dumb-as-he-looks king to catch on and deal with matters, while Christian rots in a dungeon.

The strength of Ferris' characters is that if they are humorously portrayed, they still maintain a certain character and individuality not found in the traditional roles of vintage fairy tales. In this sense, the characters are much more those of Shrek than those Disney's Sleeping Beauty, but with, the first few chapters perhaps excepted, a reasonable balance of the overtly anachronistic in-jokes related to current events or idioms in the real world (like using the term p-mail for pigeon post). Ferris does a good job of including many of the standard plots and characters of the fairy tale, while breathing a breath of fresh air into some of the dustier conventions of the genre, but ultimately what makes this book work is its light (as opposed to ponderous), but succinct narrative that moves the story along nicely.

Once Upon a Marigold is a fine, amusing story for the younger juvenile reader, and not without its rewards for the older reader. While I don't suggest you try to order it by p-mail, certainly you should drop by the castle and see how Christian and Marigold are getting on.

Copyright © 2003 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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