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Fiction in Review— The Minister's Daughter

The Minister's Daughter
Julie Hearn
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
2005; 258 pages

I love it when an author weaves an historical tale so well you believe every word of it even though it's full of magic, spells, fairies and piskies. It helps that these are not your stereotypical fluffy fairies and piskies; quite the contrary. In Julie Hearn's wonderful novel, The Minister's Daughter, you have history and magic along with lovely and lyrical writing.

The title character, Grace, is pretty and refined, a seemingly obedient Puritan minister's daughter living in seventeenth century England. At least that's how she appears. The tale is told in part from the diary of Grace's less than perfect sister Patience.

The story really belongs to Nell, however, a merrybegot (a wild child conceived magically on the first of May) whom the minister sneeringly calls "the scruffy little heathen whose grandmother follows the old ways." Nell is also a healer, herbalist, spell-weaver and midwife in training - a good enough midwife that even the dangerous fairies call upon her services.

On the surface, Nell and the minister's two daughters would seem to have nothing in common and would be loathe to admit how tightly their lives are woven. Eventually Grace harbors a secret that binds the three young women, setting in motion a chain of circumstances that will become especially difficult for Nell. Nell's life is threatened when the minister chooses to believe that his daughters' sudden fits and speaking in tongues are caused by Nell's supposed wicked witchcraft.

The author has done her research into the history of life in England during that period, spellcraft, and herbal recipes. My children would have been happy, when they were youngsters enthralled by fairy rings, to know about the following spell which Nell is taught by her granny to summon a fairy:

Find thyself a gallitrap (fairy ring), and lay down within it, with thy feet pointing north. Best this be when the moon is full and the hour late. Wear thy coat inside out, and have a four-leaf clover in the pocket, to prevent mischief being wrought upon thy limbs or senses. Take three swallows of sleeping draft, place wild thyme upon thine eyelids, and recite, over and over, until sleep claims thee: "In peace I come, in peace I lie. Come forth in peace and round me fly." So mote it be.

This is another of those wonderful books officially targeted at young adults which really has no age limit to the audience it reaches. A reader needs only to have the desire to read a well-crafted, magical yet authentic-feeling story of the clash between the old and the new ways of looking at the world and religion.

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