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The Conjurer Princess
Vivian Vande Velde
HarperPrism Books, 214 pages

The Conjurer Princess
Vivian Vande Velde
Vivian Vande Velde is the author of Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, A Hidden Magic, and many other fine fantay novels. She lives with her husband and daughter in Rochester, New York.

Brothers Grimm and Sisters Weird
St. Louis County Library Book Reviews
Washington-Centerville Public Library
Horror Titles for Teens
KidsClub 61 - Books
Children's Literature -- Fairrosa Cyber Library

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Sixteen-year-old Lylene, the heroine of Vivian Vande Velde's The Conjurer Princess, and her sister Beryl are orphans, raised by their aunt and uncle. When Beryl is kidnapped on her wedding day in a violent assault by a group of armed knights, Lylene expects that her sister will soon be rescued and returned. But the law seems helpless, and six months later a marriage between Beryl and her kidnapper is sanctioned by the Church. Outraged, Lylene sets out to rescue her sister herself.

She bargains with a wizard to become his housekeeper, in return for the magic powers she needs to set Beryl free. The wizard keeps his end of the agreement, but like most fairy tale bargains, this one has a catch: the magic Lylene gains is limited to making temporary copies of real objects -- and in gaining it, she ages sixty years.

Alone and nearly penniless, Lylene gets into trouble when the money she magically duplicates to pay her way at an inn fades away too quickly. She is rescued by Shile and Weiland, a dangerous but attractive pair of mercenaries, who agree to help her free her sister. Adventures follow: pursuit by armed men who believe Lylene is a witch, another encounter with the wizard, capture by the knights who serve Beryl's kidnapper-husband, a dangerous escape. In the process, Lylene discovers that it is not always possible to be honorable when engaged in the business of survival, and is forced to confront the darker side of her magical powers -- and of her sister Beryl, whose kidnapping, it turns out, was not exactly what it seemed.

Vande Velde's well-phrased narrative sweeps along at a swift pace, capturing the reader's interest at once and never flagging. Descriptions are vivid, secondary characters are sharply-drawn, and the budding romance between Lylene and Weiland is nicely handled (although some might feel a man in his late twenties is a bit old for a girl of sixteen). Vande Velde works well in shades of gray: she makes it clear there are no easy solutions, nor are endings ever entirely happy.

The book is flawed, however, by an occasional sense of sketchiness. While the central story is well-realized, the back story -- Lylene's parents' death, her unhappy childhood with her unloving aunt and uncle, her uneasy relationship with her sister -- is only hinted at. More detail would have strengthened the narrative and provided a stronger sense of character. As it is, Lylene is a somewhat one- dimensional heroine, and because of this her confrontation with the ambiguity of her magical powers lacks the depth Vande Velde seems to be trying to convey. There are also some odd omissions. Unable to regain her true age except by wishing her extra years onto others, Lylene does so with few pangs of conscience -- until, near the end of the book, Vande Velde somewhat hastily has her acknowledge the moral burden of this action. And though the final two-thirds of the story consists of one armed skirmish after another (the book has a body count to rival an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie), Lylene, a sheltered girl of gentle birth, seems strangely unfazed by it all.

In spite of these weaknesses, The Conjurer Princess is an enjoyable read, and is sure to be appreciated by the 12-16 age group at which it is aimed.

Copyright © 1997 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. For an excerpt of her Avon Eos novel, The Arm of the Stone, visit her Web site.

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