Merida is a teenaged princess, contentedly living in the ramshackle castle DunBroch with her blustery father, passive mother, annoying triplet brothers, and dramatic adopted sister. In the kitchen late one Christmas Eve, she hears a knock at the door and opens it in time to see Feradach, the god of ruin, taking off his gloves. She chases him, barefoot in the snow, to the holy well, where they are joined by Cailleach, the ancient goddess of creation and growth. Desperate to save her family, she makes a deal with them, agreeing that if her entire family is not changed in a year’s time, Feradach will place his lethal hand on her home. Everyone will die and everything she knows will be destroyed.
Propelled by this rash bargain and the threats of a bullying warlord, Merida sets off to visit three countries in a year, accompanied by various members of her family. If she is looking for change, she certainly finds it, although not in the ways she expected, and often in ways she strongly resists. Merida discovers that we are often unaware of other people’s interior lives—even those we love most— and that it is when we try to change others into our image of them that Feradach’s ruin begins to approach.
This is a rollicking adventure tale that flows right from the Disney movie, Brave. Disney approached the celebrated teen writer, Maggie Stiefvater, asking her to write a novel that would show Merida’s life ten or so years after the end of the movie. Once she confirmed that she would have the freedom to go in any direction, she picked up her pen— or, laptop. Disney fans will not be disappointed. Stiefvater is one of my favorite YA writers, and I have reviewed her brilliant Raven Cycle books here and here, and her South American-flavored All the Crooked Saints here.
I listened to an audiobook of this title, read by the inimitable Fiona Hardingham, whom I have lauded before as the reader of My Plain Jane and others in that series. I didn’t even realize at the time that she also narrated Once Upon a Wardrobe, the story of C.S. Lewis’s childhood. She pronounces the Gaelic names perfectly, which is helpful, since I could never have figured out Cailleach otherwise. She narrates in a British accent, then slides seamlessly into a Scottish brogue for the many different character’s voices.
Maggie Stiefvater has crafted an exciting and meaningful tale, staying true to the original characters, which will please fans of Brave, while adding depth and understanding that is appropriate for a maturing Merida. Oh, and there might be a bit of a slow-burn romance in there, too.
Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.