“Sometimes," Anastazia said, "it isn't about being the most powerful person or the person who has the most knowledge. It isn't about being the oldest person, or the strongest person or the person who makes all the right decisions. Sometimes it's about being the person who decides to stand up and fight."
Claire Legrand is one of those authors for me, and I knew I would love her newest book FOXHEART before it even hit the shelves. Because I've just come to know that I will inherently love everything Legrand rights, that her narration speaks to me on a personal level I will probably never be able to put into fully formed words. We'll just call it book magic.
FOXHEART is, technically speaking, a fabulous middle grade high fantasy adventure, but I promise you there is glorious content in here for all ages. I'm nearing my 30's and my heart fluttered and I grinned stupidly at the sweet moments. I teared up and sniffled and clutched my chest at the sad parts. That's the consistency you'll expect to get from any Legrand book. You will feel all of the feelings; happy, sad, mad, annoyed, afraid. There are times you want to reach into the book, flick a character on the nose and say "NO STOP THAT THIS INSTANT." For as many of those moments there are times you want to reach in and give every character the biggest hug you can possible muster.
It's a very character driven story; centered around our main character Quicksilver. On the first page of the story she'd probably roll her eyes and give a derisive snort if anyone called her a hero, but by the end I think she'd half agree with me. Quicksilver is not a beautiful Princess in a magic land, but a sad and internally armor clad little girl with a squashed nose and a mess of grey hair. She's been abandoned by her parents, which is reason enough for thorns to grow around her hair, grown up the first twelve years of her life with no name at the convent she is taken in by, and suffers through cruelty from the other children. And as is the sad case, cruelty has a tendency to breed cruelty. The girl fights back, uses mischief and sneakery/thievery to prank and poke and try to hurt others around her before they have a chance to hurt her. She feels safer at a distance, the dog she named Fox the only creature that she will truly let close. Fox is a vibrant character of his own, let me tell you. I usually fall in love with the humans in stories, but this dog stole my heart on so many levels, especially when there's a shift in the plot that brings out a different side of him. Anastazia is a wizened, grumpy old woman with a talent for snark that made me laugh so hard I teared up a few times...and she is more than she appears as well. Actually, every character in this story is made of more than we originally think; from the meek Sly Boots to the seemingly evil Wolf King, and Rompus the terrifying dragon.
Like any good fantasy this book handles the concept of good and evil, trying to triumph over the latter, though the line between the two is always beautifully blurred by Legrand. There is mystery, there are battles, magic, beautifully heartbreaking bonds between witches and their monsters which immediately and nostalgically reminded me of the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. But the driving force throughout this book is how much Quicksilver grows without realizing that she's growing. Her life had shaped her like clay, carved her out to be a very self centered little girl. Self is all she's ever had, the choice to not share her name or who she can be as a person with those around her has always been the rebellion that gives her the most peace. When she begins her journey to fight the Wolf King, she doesn't know much about the evil he's doing, she doesn't take up arms to protect those around her. It's about her, implicitly. That doesn't change overnight, instead she opens up in these small pulsing with brilliance moments where she is either unaware or completely disgusted by the shifting of her heart and her own moral compass. With each of these moments you can feel a thorn snap away from her insides, you can feel her blossom into who she's actually capable of being.
The world she's moving through is an entity unto itself, and it shifts in unexpected ways I won't spoil for you here. The Star Lands is a rich environment for this story to take place in, and when you first open the book there's a map that details the land. I promise you that you will be consulting it frequently throughout the story, dying to be able to trace the character's movements through it. There are parts of it that are brilliant with color, parts that are grey and dulled. Dark forests with unicorns that are not at all a maiden's friend, ice caves, a dragon's lair...pretty much any sort of environment you'd want to see present in a fantasy story is represented, but not at all in the way that you're anticipating. Legrand has aces up her sleeve, and a creative mind that likes to lure you in with your own preconceived ideas, and then shake things up with something different. It's the kind of world you don't want to leave. I'll admit that when I finished the book I went back to the beginning and read it again right away.
If you're a fan of fantasy that features a vibrantly rich setting, a main character who is both good and not so good all at once, a litany of animal companions that will make you want to hug your pets close (or if you're like me and you have no pets, I'm afraid you'll just find a very soft blanket and cuddle that instead) and a storyline that never runs out of twists and turns, then FOXHEART by Claire Legrand is a book for you; for middle grade readers, ya readers and adult readers alike.