Juniper – Monica Furlong
A prequel to Wise Child, this book follows Juniper’s adventures as a young princess in Cornwall, plucked from her easy life and placed in the care of the old wise woman Euny. Training to be a doran under Euny’s tutelage, Juniper has to adjust to hard work, meager food and troubled, uncomfortable sleep. Her training pays off, though, when her power-hungry aunt Meroot tries to sieze the throne with help from a sinister and dangerous new husband. Juniper and young Finbar, a messenger in Cornwall’s castle, must ride to the aid of Meroot’s bespelled son–but can Finbar’s courage and Juniper’s magic win against Meroot and her husband’s black arts?
How wonderful it was to read Juniper and find that the beautiful, happy, tender woman I loved so much in Wise Child had once been a slightly cranky and confused child! I loved the sensory detail of this book–the hard stone of the hearth where Juniper slept and the way it was cold by morning, the texture of the horrible-sounding soup Euny made for her first meal in the tiny house, the stunningly beautiful colors and textures of the cloak Juniper wove for herself as part of her doran training…even the sulphurous smells in the final battle scene were so vivid to me. This book made me love Juniper even more than I did before, especially for the ways in which she repeated Euny’s teaching with Wise Child, and also the ways in which she disagreed and went against her own teacher’s methods. I even came to forgive passionate young Finbar for the way he’d mostly abandoned Wise Child in the first book. I got a lot of pleasure out of all the moments when the two books overlapped, also–like the little shock of recollection I had when I started reading Juniper and discovered that her given name is Ninnoc, and then realized Euny had called her that once in Wise Child, without any explanation given to the reader. You were clearly thinking ahead, and that made me supremely happy.
I also have to make another comment about the incredible cover to this book. The Dillons really never miss a trick, do they? I studied the cover of Wise Child, and the cover of Juniper, and found that the images adhered to what you described in your prose down to the last possible detail. That’s the kind of attention that doesn’t happen with many fantasy covers, and I think it’s all part of the sensory depth of these particular books. It’s really unfortunate that the Random House website doesn’t even list Juniper anymore–I presume it’s gone out of print, which means it’s time for me to start looking for a nice used copy. Because of course, this is another five-star book, which I must add to my fantasy shelf.