David Randall,
In the Shadow of the Bear
#2: Chandlefort

(Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)

Set a few months after the events in Clovermead, Chandlefort starts where most fantasies end: after the hero has discovered his mysterious but exalted parentage and risen to his proper station in life.

You'll probably have to wait another book for the happily-ever-after part, though. At not-quite-13, plucky heroine Clovermead has her hands -- and sometimes paws -- full. Although Clovermead is quite happy to embrace her inner bear, her new role as Lady Cindertallow's daughter and heir is far less pleasant. Her elegant, aristocratic cousin Saraband is constantly making her look countrified and clumsy in front of her friend Sorrel, who is now a Yellowjacket cadet of Chandlefort. Worse, he seems completely taken in by Saraband's sugary charms. What Clovermead can't quite figure out is why this upsets her so much....

Burgeoning adolescent emotions aside, Clovermead must also deal with a decade-old love triangle involving her mother, father and a nobleman named Mallow Kite that is about to rise from its grave and endanger them all. It's up to Clovermead -- and her unlikely companions Sorrel and Saraband -- to find a way to save Lady Cindertallow, free the enslaved bears of Lord Ursus and put one unsettled spirit to rest.

More consistently grim than Clovermead, Chandlefort finds its heroine constantly questioning whether her actions, and those of her powerful and often ruthless mother, are justifiable. The lack of moral absolutes in David Randall's world, one of the most interesting aspects of the first book, is fully evident in this sequel in which even the antagonist is not entirely unsympathetic.

Unfortunately, the other thing Clovermead had going for it -- its spunky, likable heroine -- has all but vanished. The sunny Clovermead of the first book has become, somewhat precociously, a brooding preteen who spends all of her time agonising over the Sorrel/Saraband situation, agonising over fighting or agonising over fleeing. Not surprisingly, the already episodic plot begins to seem downright repetitive.

But if teen angst is up your alley and other minor writing problems -- a few deus ex machinas, occasionally stilted dialogue and a handful of contrived situations -- don't bother you, Chandlefort is a readable and thoughtful fantasy adventure that refuses to provide candy-coated answers to the many questions it raises. It works well as a sequel, having a largely independent plot that operates within the larger story arc that will, presumably, be developed in the next book, Sorrel. I might read it to see if the old Clovermead makes a comeback. For a more balanced approach to spirited shapeshifting heroines, however, try Sherwood Smith's Wren trilogy.

review by
Jennifer Mo

12 May 2007

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