The conjoined powers of two magical children bring about a new alliance to thwart evil and unite the natural world in this fantastical novel from a bestselling French writer.
Seven years after the publication of her surprise international hit, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008), Barbery returns with something completely different: a fairy story of parallel but connected human and elf worlds and of dark forces and extraordinary goodness clashing in an age-old battle. Neither exactly pantheistic nor biblical, the novel expresses a spirituality rooted in art, nature, and, above all, love. Its heroines are Maria and Clara, the former born of elf parents but perfectly human in appearance, the latter half human, half elf. Their gifts, even at age 12, are prodigious. Maria’s powers are elemental and growing, Clara’s derive from music, but their abilities reach far wider and form a bulwark against the overwhelming evil led by a seductive entity named Aelius. Barbery’s rhapsodic descriptions of the Burgundy landscape and peasantry, wildlife and creativity are eclipsed by more visionary and mystical scenarios studded with lambent imagery: a red bridge, an iris, a path of stones. Intense and impassioned but also fitfully obscure, distracted by tangents, and teasingly incomplete (especially when it comes to those dark forces), the novel can both enchant and confound. There are echoes of Milton, Tolkien, and Rowling, especially in the epic attack that suddenly pits Maria, her family, and community against the unearthly powers of a "storm-clad devil." While the Elfin Council watches, Maria and Clara fight the first battle in a war that may be part historical and part ecological and which concludes, at least for the elves, on a sober yet optimistic note.
Although possibly too abstract for children and too fey for some adults, this fervent, idiosyncratic fable is undeniable evidence of a richly lyrical imagination.