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Changeling by Delia Sherman

01/08/2011. Contributed by Sarah Bruch

Buy Changeling in the USA - or Buy Changeling in the UK

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pub: Viking/Penguin. 292 page small hardback. Price: $16.99 (US), $22.50 (CAN). ISBN: 0-670-05967-6.

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Sarah’s rules for reading fairy tales:-
- Never give out your full name
- Always remain polite, even when terrified
- Never leave the path, not even if the other one looks far more interesting
- Most importantly, never, never break a geas placed upon you

Should you read ‘Changeling’ or if you have ever read a novel based on fairy tale rules you will be familiar with my set of rules. Even if you haven’t read a fairy tale, it’s probably best you learn the rules before reading this book.

This is the first in a series of books about Neef, the human part of a changeling pair, the fairy part living in Neef’s place in New York City. Neef is in fact the Official Changeling of Central Park, the Central Park in New York Between, rather than our world of New York Outside. The two worlds, Between and Outside run along quite happily with very little contact apart from the odd bogey man living in a small child’s wardrobe.

Neef lives with her fairy godmother, Astris, a beautiful white mouse who can talk. She also has a fairy godfather in the shape of Pooka, a shape-changer who, while in the shape of a horse, tempts people into riding him and then only lets them go once they’re dead. Neef, being a typical human being, doesn’t really fit into the world Between, she is much too curious, a character trait not shown by any fairy being. This curiosity and her need to break the obscure rules placed on her lead her to do a terrible thing...break the geas placed on her by the Genius of Central Park (see my rules above). In order to appease the Genius, Neef must complete a set of challenges each more impossible than the next. During the course of these challenges, Neef discovers there are an awful lot of very odd characters living in the world Between, quite a lot of whom would gladly kill her if she forgets any of the many rules that exist in this strange world.

As a reader of many books based on traditional fairy tales, I have to say I loved this book, each character was drawn clearly and beautifully. Sherman has even introduced me to some new characters from the more traditional tales and she has created some memorable ones from more recent novels and folklore. I loved the way the traditional and current characters all interacted with each other, nothing seemed awkward about them both existing in the same world. I’m not too sure whether the age-group this is aimed at would fully understand all the fairy tale references in this book, which is why I was really pleased to discover a glossary of them all in the back.

One element of the book I wasn’t particularly comfortable with was the comparison between the fairy changeling character and a person with Asperger’s. I realise that people with this syndrome often appear to be separate from the real world, but I really don’t think they should be compared with non-human creatures from a different world. I can see where Sherman is coming from, but it wasn’t something I think was handled very well.

During this book, Neef gets to travel to many of the districts in New York Between, all of which exist in a non-fairy format Outside as well. I hope that during the next book we get to see some more of these districts, they really are very interesting and completely different to each other. Sherman has really put a lot of thought into how each would be represented by the different fairy fold. I especially loved that Broadway is in constant night mode, so all the vampires in New York Between live there without fear of the sun!

I honestly cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in this series ‘The Magic Mirror Of The Mermaid Queen’. Even though these are meant to be children’s books, I think any age-group would really enjoy these books. I highly recommend that you read this book, preferably asap!

Sarah Bruch

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