Terri Windling and Ellen Steiber,
The Raven Queen
(Voyage of the Basset #2)

(Random House, 1999)

The voyages of the magical ship, the Basset, continue in this second entry in the series. This time, fantasy authors Terri Windling and Ellen Steiber take the helm in The Raven Queen.

Gwen and Devin Thornworth, a pair of 12-year-old twins, live in St. Ives, Cornwall, and they are two of the four children of John and May Thornworth, both painters in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The two oldest daughters, Vivien and Elaine, as well as Gwen seem to have inherited their parents' gift for painting and art, but Devin is sensible and practical and not inclined to be artistic at all. Devin is the one who makes sure the grocer is paid and the meals are planned; Devin keeps the household and the family running.

It is no wonder that his gifts seem to go unnoticed or unappreciated, and Devin himself is not at all surprised when the Thornworths' dinner guests, the Aisling sisters, single out Gwen for a magical adventure. Gwen, it appears, is to board the Basset and carry the portrait her mother painted of the sisters to the court of Titania in the Lands of Legend, from there to be taken to their father, Professor Aisling.

Gwen is thrilled; Devin, overhearing the mission, is distressed. He follows Gwen on board the Basset, much to her chagrin and annoyance, but he is welcomed by the crew. The dwarves, Sebastian in particular, try to impress on her that sometimes it is very useful to be practical, and they encourage Devin to learn as much as he can about faeries in the ship's library.

Due to a storm, they make landfall later than intended, and the twins camp on the shore, intending to wait until morning before braving the forest. Gwen impetuously follows what she thought were faery lights and finds herself a prisoner of the Unseelie Court and the Raven Queen, Nicnevin. She finds another mortal imprisoned there as well, one Thomas the Rhymer whose identity is unknown to the Raven Queen. Thomas is wasting away because he refuses to eat the food "under the hill," and Gwen decides that if she can't help herself, she'll at least try to help Thomas,

Devin makes his way to Titania and Oberon of the Seelie Court who are sympathetic, but say they cannot help him for fear of breaking the peace with the Unseelie Court. But they assist Devin in a plan to rescue Gwen on his own, and in the process, Devin discovers that his talents extend beyond the practical -- and Gwen finds out that it is indeed useful to be practical and sensible.

Windling and Steiber alternate chapters but the writing is seamless and polished. There is not so much of the Basset itself in the book, but the authors make up for that with a rich and compelling narrative with its roots in folklore. The characterizations are well-executed and believable, and Devin is particularly sympathetic. A very well done and useful note at the end of the book offers further information on some of the elements of the story, as well as some related Web sites, and rounds out the book nicely.

The Basset is due to set sail again in June 2000, but until then, remember, Credendo vides! "By believing, one sees."

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy The Raven Queen from Amazon.com.