by Charles de Lint
illustrated by Charles Vess
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
When it comes to fairies, Sarah Jane Dillard must be careful what she wishes for. She may have thought she wanted to meet the fairies of the Tanglewood Forest, but that was before she knew the truth about them. When Sarah Jane discovers a tiny man wounded by a cluster of miniature poison arrows, she brings him to the reclusive Aunt Lillian for help. But the two quickly find themselves ensnared in a longtime war between rival fairy clans, and Sarah Jane's six sisters have been kidnapped to use as ransom. Her only choice is to go after them, and with the help of several mythical friends--from the Apple Tree Man to a cat called Li'l Pater--she'll have to find a way to untangle herself from the fairy feud before she and her sisters are trapped in their world forever.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
A few years ago, over a number of years, I read more than a few of Charles de Lint's books. While I quite like some of his adult novels -- Trader and Yarrow are a couple of my favourites -- I've had mixed results with his books for younger readers. The Blue Girl was good. Dingo... not so much. And then there's Seven Wild Sisters... which again fell a bit short. It's listed as a Newford book on Goodreads, but all that really means is that it takes place in de Lint's fictional city and surrounding areas. From what I can tell, this book wasn't a sequel or a prequel; you don't need to have read anything else to make sense of this particular story.
The edition that I read was released recently, but it's based on an older edition from 2002. That one had illustrations that were black and white and fewer in number. I could take or leave the illustrations, really. I didn't think they were that special. A couple were cute. A couple more were downright creepy...
The story is very simple, a fairytale about seven sisters who find themselves swept up into the middle of a fairy feud. The whole thing pretty much takes place over the course of one day, so the story itself isn't that complicated. In fact, I found it a little too simple. I realize that it's supposed to be a book for middle-grade readers, but I had problems with that. The writing style is... well, it's de Lint's style. And I don't think it translates very well for younger readers. At times, the syntax seems too adult; at other times -- perhaps to compensate -- it almost seems dumbed down to the point of being condescending.
The other problem I had with this particular syntax was that it made it very difficult to tell the girls apart. There are seven of them, ranging in age from sixteen to... ten? (I'm not sure if we were ever told the youngest twins' age.) That's a lot of characters to keep track of. The narrative switches back and forth between pairs of them (Adie and Elsie, Laurel and Bess, Ruth and Grace) and Sarah Jane, the thirteen-year-old middle daughter (whose sections are narrated in the first person). Sarah Jane's sections were the only ones that were really any different. With any of the other girls, it was difficult to remember which section I was reading, or even who was speaking in each section, because they all sounded alike. There wasn't a lot of difference between the speech patterns of Adie, the eldest, and Ruth and Grace, the youngest twins -- and I thought there should have been.
There was some action in this book, but it fell really flat for me. I didn't ever feel worried for the characters or think that they might not come out of their predicament alive (even though there were a few threats of death throughout the story). Some of the inter-character conflict seemed like it was there just for the sake of conflict. The whole thing wrapped up a little too easily and neatly... and while it was sort of fairytale-esque in its simplicity, I was hoping for more. And when I say "more", I don't mean that bit of teenaged romance tacked on at the end. That was completely unnecessary.
And there was one more thing in particular that really drove me to distraction. The archers in this story always "notched" their arrows. The word was spelled wrong in every instance. It's "nocked"... not "notched". If you're going to write a story with fairies shooting arrows, at least get the terminology right!
Overall, I was not too impressed. I guess I should stick to de Lint's adult fare. I haven't had very good luck with his books for younger readers.
"I like my familiar woods, watching the changes settle on them, season after season. I don't feel like a visitor anymore. I'm a neighbor now. I belong. And pretty as this place is, I don't belong here. I feel it like a buzz just under my skin. It's saying, 'You've got another home.'"
Recommended to: fairytale fans who enjoy simple stories
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Overall Rating: 2.57 out of 5 ladybugs