This year is off to a great start for reading diversely, but I realized that I haven’t touched a book in one of my favorite genres in quite some time. In fact, I believe the last work of fantasy fiction I reviewed was last year’s read of The Neverending Story. When one of my clients recommended Foxheart, I jumped at the chance (literally jumped)! This book is the first time I’ve read anything from the mind of Claire Legrand, and the writing was phenomenal, giving me that warm feeling I get from books by my favorite fantasy writers like Robin McKinley or Charles De Lint . One of the best feelings in the world for a reader is when you know you are going to love a book after just one chapter. Foxheart perfectly captured that for me. In a story full of interesting characters, magical creatures, and a little time travel thrown in for good measure, this book was my welcome return to the world of high fantasy.
In the Star Lands where magic has been slowly dying, the fearsome Wolf King makes it his mission to hunt down the last of the witches. Once his mission is complete, the world will be safe from the fabled dark magic. Twelve-year-old Quicksilver, abandoned at birth with a reputation as a troublemaker, knows nothing about magic. Instead, she dreams of being known as the greatest thief in all the world. Raised in a convent, she already has had years of practice stealing from the Sisters as well as playing pranks on those that ridicule her. Quicksilver fancies herself a loner, because when you’re by yourself, you don’t have to worry about being hurt or abandoned. In fact, she went without a name for the first twelve years of her life. Her only companion in her life of thievery is her scruffy and tattered-eared dog named Fox. One day, a strange old woman arrives in her village, and little does Quicksilver know that her life is about to change in some rather extraordinary ways.
Technically speaking, Foxheart falls into the category of young adult fiction. However, this is a work that can be enjoyed at any age. Considering I am far from being considered a “young adult,” trust me when I say it can be appreciated by all readers alike. It’s a very character-driven story, centered around a girl that does not fall into the category of your typical heroine. Quicksilver often reminded me of Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. Self-centered and ill-mannered, she is known for her pranks, as well as her skills at thievery/trickery. She feels safer at a distance, only allowing the stray dog Fox close to her heart. Let me just say that the character of Fox is what made this book so much fun, especially when a narrative twist brings out a whole other side of him. Anastazia, the grumpy old woman who launches Quicksilver on her adventures, is an interesting character, particularly when we discover her true identity. The other main character, known as Sly Boots, is the comedic sidekick of the novel, the Ronald Weasley of the adventure. Unfortunately, I did not find him nearly as interesting as the former. For quite a lot of the novel, Sly Boots just gets captured and complains, but some truly interesting character development does take place in the second half.
As with any fantasy story that handles the concept of good trying to triumph over evil, the line is often beautifully blurred by Legrand. Every character in the story is not what he or she appears as first presented, even the villain. I also love the connections between witches and their animals (referred to as monsters), another nice nod to the worlds of Philip Pullman. The greatest aspect of this book is just how much Quicksilver grows as a person. Of course, character development is necessary, and Legrand manages to pull of quite the magic trick to us as readers, witnessing her changes without realizing that she’s changing. In subtle ways, she grows as a person and learns the necessity of bonds with others.
“Sometimes, it isn’t about being the most powerful person or the person who has the most knowledge. It isn’t about being the oldest person, or the strongest person or the person who makes all the right decisions. Sometimes it’s about being the person who decides to stand up and fight.”
While the characters are what makes this novel so extraordinary, it’s worth talking about the world as an entity unto itself. The Star Lands is a rich environment, as Legrand does some extraordinary world-building with it, particularly as we witness it from two different time periods. I loved the contrast, as some worlds are brilliant with every color imaginable, while others are faded and gray. Legrand draws in several classic elements of high fantasy, such as unicorns, talking animals, and dark forests, but she manages to put a unique twist on all of these elements, making them her own. A recurring theme of this work is on how there is a reality beneath the initial image. I also was pleasantly surprised to see a full and complete story captured in one book. Halfway through reading it, I thought there’s no way this can all be wrapped up in a satisfactory way, but Legrand proved me wrong.
If you love fantasy with tons of adventures, a vibrantly rich setting, a main character that grows on you, and animal companions that will make you hug your pets tightly (nearly squeezed my cat to death), then Foxheart is the book for you. I am pleased to add the name Claire Legrand to my list of favorite fantasy writers.