Author: Julie Berry
Genre: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens Books
Publication Date: October 2010
Hardcover: 352 Pages
In a secluded village, magic sparkles on the edges of the forest. There, a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy’s charms—no more than trinkets when worn by others—are remarkably potent when Evie ties them around her neck. Her talents, and charms, have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason’s apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next-door. When the young king’s carriage arrives one day, and his footman has fallen ill, Evie might just get her chance after all . . .
Berry’s debut novel garnered glowing reviews and strong sales—and now she’s done it again with a beautifully woven tale to keep all readers, young and old, absolutely charmed.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel (though there is room for more in this world).
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I was on strike 2 for fairy tale-ish fantasy: having watched the lamentable Snow White and the Huntsman on Saturday, and coming off the inexcusably terrible Kill Me Softly yesterday. I desperately needed to read something that would break me out of my fantasy slump. I decided to take a chance on Julie Berry.
And holy crap guys. I am so very, very glad I did.
Evelyn Pomeroy is a small town girl from the village of Maudley in the kingdom of Pylandrian – but she has big dreams. It has been her greatest hope and dream to leave Maudley to attend university in the kingdom capitol and become a healer, though the likelihood of her ever attaining that dream is a slim and distant thing indeed. When the announcement makes it to town that the King himself will be visiting to partake in the local festivities, however, Evie’s prospects change drastically – especially when the King shows up with a grievously ill Secretary of the Exchequer that needs immediate medical aid, and Evie is the only capable healer around. Winning the King’s favor and the promise of tuition and board at the university, Evie sets out on the journey of a lifetime from Maudley to the city capitol, escorted by her best friend Prissy and her next door neighbor and dear friend Aidan. On the road to university, however, Evie and her caravan run into desperate trouble – a highwayman holds up their coach, stealing their goods and killing their driver. Aidan and Evie press on to the capitol, but more isfortune befalls them as they take to sea and are caught in a violent storm.
But it is here, on the high seas, the Evie discovers her true mettle – here that she learns just who she is, what power she wields, and the destiny that lies before her. Caught up in a royal wedding, plots and double-crosses, and an ancient heritage, Evie’s path is fraught with danger – but with the guidance of her own heart, and help from those friends and family loyal and true, she will find a place in this strange new world.
Guys. GUYS. I loved this book so very much. I am prefacing this part of the review with an apology – I apologize, because this is going to be one giant love-fest for Julie Berry’s beautiful book. When I started Secondhand Charm, I was desperate for a good fantasy read that would restore my faith in the YA, fairytale-ish subgenre (coming off of two very, very bad misses with Snow White and the Huntsman and Kill Me Softly) – I wasn’t expecting to be swept off of my feet. But swept off my feet I was, thanks to Julie Berry’s beautiful, masterful, Shannon Hale-esque YA fantasy. Secondhand Charm is a sweeping adventure, a coming of age tale, and a novel about romance and magic. Immediately, I fell in love with Julie Berry’s writing style, which is evocative and reminiscent of the Books of Bayern – in fact, Secondhand Charm reminds me of The Goose Girl (thought I think heroine Evelyn is far more Enna than Ani).
On that note, the reason why the novel soars is because of the defiant strength of its heroine. I absolutely adored Evie, a heroine that knows what she wants and manages to stay true to herself and her beliefs, even when making the right choices are so very hard. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see a heroine that doesn’t take any crap, who gets annoyed with cryptic answers and what she perceives of as hokum/superstition (she is an aspiring scientist, after all), and who desperately tries to do what is right instead of what is easy.
Beyond the heroine, I loved the actual magic of the novel, the idea of Serpentinas, the fact that all of these things I’m saying about magic and serpentinas is actually a mystery until you read it happening (and I won’t divulge because I LOVE that for once there is a blurb that doesn’t give away the meat and potatoes of the story!). Ok, ok, one more slight divulgence – I love the relationship between Evie and her leviathan, and how their lives and fates are so intertwined. But that is all I will say of the matter, because theirs is a story that deserves to be discovered as a pure surprise.
Regarding the actual plot and other characters, I found myself similarly enamored. The story proper focuses on Evelyn and her adventure to find herself and her heart’s true desire, but along the way there are many others involved and plots afoot – from her humble plans to secure an education, there’s magic, an ancient inheritance, a sinister plot to overthrow a kingdom, and friends lost and found. I loved the relationship that unfolds between Evelyn and her new mentor and friend, the gregarious foreign princess Annalise.
And, of course, there’s a romance too. One that is firmly on the backburner to the larger story, but so very well executed. I loved the love story.
What else can I say? I loved Secondhand Charm unequivocally, and it will certainly be on my list of notable reads of the year (if it were published in 2012, it could make my list of favorites). Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended – and now I’ll have to check out Julie Berry’s debut novel The Amaranth Enchantment immediately.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
“What will you do when school is done, Evie?”
Priscilla peered at me through her thick spectacles. They had the unfortunate effect of making her already watery eyes swim large and fishlike. That didn’t bother me. After eight years as academic rivals at Sister Claire’s school, Priscilla and I had both decided that it was much easier being friends. And what were fish eyes between friends?
It was mid-August, and the air lay heavy and hot around us as we walked home from classes along Maundley’s main street. I lowered my bonnet to shield my face from the sun. My scratchy shift and knickers clung cruelly to my damp, tired skin.
“I don’t know, Prissy,” I said. “I hate to think of it. The end of school feels like taking a walk, and reaching a cliff, with a man holding a pitchfork behind your back. There’s no other choice but to fall off.”
“Kersplat,” Priscilla agreed. “I know.” She hoisted the strap binding her books over her shoulder. “You could always do like Rosie Willis, or Mary Grace, and get married this fall.”
I shuddered. “Bit your tongue, Priscilla Hornby,” I said. “That’s like having an army of pitchforks behind you, and a lake of molten lava at the bottom of the cliff.”
“Either way, you’re dead.” Priscilla could be maddeningly practical.
“Oh, why do good things have to end,” I moaned, “while tedious things go on forever?”
Rating: 8 – Truly Awesome, and leaning towards a 9
Reading Next: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
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