Book review: The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, illustrations by Eliza Wheeler

Milford, Kate. The Left-Handed Fate. Ill. Eliza Wheeler. Holt, 2016. $16.99. 372p. ISBN 978-0-8050-9800-6. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

milford-left-handed-fateA nineteen-century privateering sloop at the onset of the U.S. War of 1812 with England is the first setting for this sequel to Bluecrowne that features four headstrong young characters. Orphaned Max Ault, “natural philosopher,” is determined to finish his father’s goal to find the pieces for ancient weapon to end all wars. Lucy Bluecrowne is the captain’s daughter committed to honor her father’s legacy by helping Max. Oliver Dexter, the American naval officer in charge of the sloop as spoils of war, struggles to live up to his father’s reputation although he is only 12. Liao, Lucy’s part Chinese nine-year-old half-brother, tries to stop fighting through his magic with creating fireworks. The complicated plot features battles on the water and throughout the magical town of Nagspeake as Max and Lucy hope that their creation of the weapon will block Napoleon Bonaparte from taking over Britain. Separately and together, the four protagonists outwit a French diplomat, outmaneuver pursuers dressed entirely in black, and cope with politics and betrayals as they develop trust for one another in the fast-pace plot. Their individual strengths of energy, intelligence, honor, loyalty, strategical thinking, and artistic ability combine into brilliant leadership.

Verdict: Beyond being just plain fun, in the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones, and exciting, Fate is thoughtful, introducing the reader into another world of ideas and magical places. The frequent black and white illustrations extend the understanding of character and places—Milford even has an entire metafictional website on Nagspeake at nagspeake.com. As a character in Fate described fairy tales: “fantastic things stand in for real ones and some sort of truth hides behind a wondrous fiction.”

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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