Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry
2010, Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
*I'm currently on vacation in the sunny Caribbean! This is a scheduled post (I sure hope it actually posts). I don't have Internet access so I won't be able to comment back as I usually try to do. Thanks for visiting though and hope you enjoy the review!
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 . . . (courtesy of Goodreads)
Secondhand Charm is a fun, sweet, rollicking adventure fantasy story that instantly evokes comparisons to Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale. Evie is a poor girl from a rural town, but she has dreams of going to university in the capital and becoming a doctor like her parents. She unexpectedly wins a scholarship to the university when the king visits town. Now, she has to travel to the capital to begin her studies. Her journey there becomes much more complicated and dangerous than she ever expected.
To her great surprise, Evie discovers that everything she knows about herself is a life. She is a serpentina; she comes from a great legacy of serpentinas. She has her own leviathan, a sea-monster companion, and also has great magical powers. The story twists and turns as Evie learns and accept who she really is and learns who to trust and who to love.
I love that the characters in this book are not black and white. Evie's serpent is a loyal companion, yet also sees humans as nothing more than food. Annalise, Evie's long-lost cousin and cousin, is manipulative and cunning, but also honestly cares for Evie and helps her adjust to her heritage. Aidan, Evie's childhood friend who is becoming something more, is kind, genuine, and loyal, but also not above jealousy and hurt feelings. It is hard to pinpoint from one scene to the next who is really "good" and "bad," although it's pretty clear by the end of the book.
Evie is a lovely girl. Intelligent, kind, loyal, cunning, and brave. In discovering her true nature, she undergoes a great shock. She is not too quick to believe in this new reality, yet also not so stubborn that she ignores what becomes blatantly obvious. The speed with which she became accustomed to her status as a serpentina felt believable. I liked that Evie's basic personality - her sense of right and wrong and her courage in defending those in need of help - did not change when her world shifted.
Secondhand Charm is an enjoyable story. It has a sense of innocence and magic that makes it feel younger than a lot of YA high fantasy, but is not so cut and dry as most middle grade fantasy. Julie Berry did a fabulous job creating a unique mythology. I have never heard of serpentinas and love the concept. The only real strike I have against this book is that it's fun but not overly memorable. I've struggled to write this review. I had a lot of fun reading the book, but never felt like I had to shout my love for it from the rooftops. It was rather difficult to put together a decent review that is as complimentary as this book deserves, yet not unrealistically so.
Rating: 3.5 / 5