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Hallowmere: In the Serpent's Coils by Tiffany Trent
Review by Gayle Surrette
Mirrorstone Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0786942290
Date: 11 September, 2007 List Price $8.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Book Website / Show Official Info /

Corrine Jameson wakes up in a strange room, in a strange bed, and too ill to sit up when she learns that her mother is dead. She's now a ward of her Uncle William McPhee. Uncle William is her mother's brother and they never got along so Corrine knows little about him. Corrine's father never came home from the war and is presumed dead. Uncle William is cold, distant, and sets rules for Corrine with no reason for his demands -- and lets it be known that he's selling the Corrine's family farm. But, in 1865 in Virginia, with no money and her parents dead, Corrine has few options -- or does she?

Her Uncle's rules were simple -- obey him unquestioningly, act and dress like a proper lady at all times, and never question him or bother him. She still might have managed to fit into her new life if not for the wild vivid dreams, the voice of the garden's hawthorne spirit urging her to return stolen property, the glimpses of a watching figure, her continuing illness, and the letter she found in her uncle's office between a nun and a priest written years ago that seems to talk about the fey. Since Corrine has a faery eye (the pupil of one eye is larger than the other), she's always been interested in the fey.

"One of the things I struggled with in Hallowmere, besides the very obvious and sad consequences of war, is the ways in which young ladies, especially young ladies of the Reconstruction/Victorian era, were often punished or ignored simply because they were women. This story is the story of a smart, young girl trying to find her own way in a world that is only just beginning to accept the notion of women as potentially intelligent, independent creatures."--Tiffany Trent

Not surprisingly it's not long before Corrine violates her Uncle's dictates and is sent to the Falston Reformatory School for Young Ladies run by a friend of his. Corrine learns that the school is for girls who have done evil deeds or who won't or don't fit into society. Her dreams don't go away and she learns that the school has secrets -- girls have been disappearing but no one seems to care. Corrine learns the there is a group of girls who look out for each other, trying to avoid disappearing. The teachers are cold, stern, and give orders with no explanation.

Corrine feels she is the only one who can do what has to be done to stop the girls from being taken and she does all she can to help. But without information, she finds she does the wrong things for the right reasons. Events spin out of control of anyone, the girls' only hope lies in banding together.

This is the first book of a series and it certainly is off to a good start. The writing is smooth; the characters are fairly well developed and fit their time (post Civil War America). The magic is low key and subtle -- making the reader wonder if it's really magic, wishful thinking, or parlor tricks.

My only criticism is that, as with a lot of books and especially those for young people, most of the plot is driven by not telling characters things they need to know. However, this hiding of information, is consistent with parenting and schooling in these times and especially when dealing with young ladies of any age. Even as an adult, I felt for Corrine's frustration about being punished for not following an order that made no sense until after you disobey and learn the context. I guess blindly following orders was never my strong suit as a child or an adult. I think that as frustrating as Corrine's situation is, it's going to resonate with all young people who are told to obey or do things but not told why.

Personally, I think any book that makes you think, gets you talking back to the characters, and cheering them on -- is well worth recommending to others. So, read and enjoy and try to patiently wait for the next book.

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