Friday, March 11, 2022

Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale (Newford #19) by Charles de Lint (author), Charles Vess (illustrator)

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, February 2014 (original publication May 2002)

The Dillards are a family of eight now; a widowed mother and her seven daughters--including two sets of twins. They're living now on a farm near a small town, and a large forest. There are odd stories about the forest, about fairies and other magical creatures, and strange disappearances. Further into the woods than the Dillards' home is the little house of Lillian Kindred. Lily is an old woman who lives alone, and grows and processes most of her own food. She also collects wild-growing ginsang, or as she calls it, 'sang, to sell in town and buy the few things she can't make herself. A lot of the work is hard, heavy work, though, and when Lily and the fourth of the Dillard girls, Sarah Jane, and Lily take a liking to each other, Mrs. Dillard doesn't object to Sarah Jane spending her free time helping Lily Kindred.

Lily tells Sarah Jane many stories of fairies and other magical creatures, including 'sangmen and bee fairies, the Apple Tree Man, and the Father of Cats, who normally appears, when he does at all, as a black panther. Sarah Jane loves the stories, but she doesn't believe them. Then one day she's out gathering 'sang on her own, because Lily is feeling her age, and discovers a tiny man seemingly made of twigs, shot through with over a hundred tiny arrows, badly wounded but still breathing. She picks him up and carries him to Lily's, and along the way meets the Apple Tree Man.sovolved herself in a fairy feud, between the bee fairies and the 'sangmen. With the bee fairies believing she has chosen to ally herself with their enemies, and the 'sangmen believing she has captured their comrade and will trade him to the bee fairies, she's in danger from both sides.

The Apple Tree Man is an old friend of Lily's, who promises to help. The Apple Tree Man has another friend, a little cat-man who calls himself Lil Pater. Soon they are planning a trip into the fairy world to work out a bargain that will get the 'sangman to safety, and convince the bee fairies that Sarah Jane was merely doing a good deed for a wounded man she knew nothing about. In the process, though, Sarah Jane won't be getting home until the next morning.

Their plan doesn't go well, when they encounter the bee fairies immediately.

Meanwhile, when Sarah Jane doesn't come home when expected, Mrs. Dillard sends the oldest girl, Adie, and one of the other singletons, Elsie, to go fetch Sarah Jane.

The older set of twins decide to go wandering in the woods, "looking for Sarah Jane," but really hoping to see some of the interesting things she has talked about, and run into a strange little twig man who lures them into a trap with music. They're musicians, and they've brought their instrument cases with them, and he challenges them to a musical duel. If he wins, they have to come with him.

Unfortunately, the younger twins have played a nasty prank that, absent the interference of the fairies none of them believe in, would have been harmless. They had followed the elder twins, and saw the kidnapping--and know they have to rescue their sisters.

Soon all the Dillard sisters are confronting the bee fairies and the 'sangmen, and learning more than any of them wanted to know about fairy. It's exciting, and the human characters are believable and likable, while the various fairy characters have the colorful characteristics, the charm, and the danger that fairies ought to have.

And of course, Charles Vess's illustrations are beautiful and enhance the story.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.

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