Get twisty with The Ropemaker, by British novelist Peter Dickinson.
Wait—you say you've never heard of the guy? Well you might not know him by name, but chances are pretty good you're familiar with his friends. Philip Pullman—the maestro behind the His Dark Materials series—called him "one of the masters of children's literature," and he was granted the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to literature. Plus his wife is famed fantasy author Robin McKinley. It's safe to say that this guy's got one serious pedigree.
But more importantly, are you a fan of magic? Good news—this is totally the book for you. Maybe strong heroines that kick major butt and prove that girl power is real are more your thing? Then dive right in—you're gonna love this read. Or perhaps you're a sucker for a coming of age story? You've definitely found your book of choice.
This story is a classic hero's journey—except the hero's a teenage girl who's down on her luck, magically speaking. Tilja Urlasdaughter lives in the Valley, where the evil Empire and horseback riding marauders are kept at bay by a funky kind of magic. Tilja's just your average kid, doing chores on the family farm—a.k.a. Woodbourne—and getting her annoying little sister, Anja, out of her hair, all while dealing with her cranky grandma, Meena. Except that the magic keeping the Valley safe is fading.
So Tilja tags along with her grandma and friends to track down Faheel, a famous and super powerful magician who saved the Valley once before. Little does she know though, that she's more than just an extra traveler. In fact, it'll be our girl Til who's the only one that can save the Valley—and the world—from an evil magician.
Needless to say, this girl's got game. Following along as she travels the world searching for magic—and, just maybe, finding her own special power in the process—is both a thrill and a pleasure.
Why Should I Care?
Peter Dickinson hasn't won a ton of awards for his kids' books for nothing. He paints a magical—and all-too-real—world in which life as the heroine knows it is fragile and changeable.
His characters leap off the page, right into your face. Dickinson makes Tilja an everywoman—a real-life kind of girl that anyone can relate to. She's got drama with her family, a grumpy grandma, chores she has to get up way too early to do, and a whole lot of figuring to do when it comes to her life. Sounds like a pretty classic teenage predicament, right? And it is…
Except instead of being faced with two invitations to the prom, Tilja finds herself faced with two very different wizards—Faheel and the Ropemaker—each of whom has different experiences in life. Faheel is the Merlin-esque magician—think wise old man with a big beard who has spent lots of doing big, magical things. He's the advisor to the heroine, but he's got a slightly questionable moral compass, too.
By contrast, the Ropemaker is like his awkward teenage nephew who's a freshman in high school. He's gawky, with an awesomely giant headdress, and never quite looks like he belongs in such a position of power (or any of the forms he shifts himself into). But like Tilja, Ropey is learning how to be a great magician—and there's no doubt he will get there.
And to make sure there's never a dull moment, the Empire is an alternately fascinating and horrifying place. Its cultural structure is so beyond anything Tilja's seen before that without her friends and family guiding her she'd be completely out of her element. But you know what this means? It means that we're constantly discovering the Empire, too—in all its glory—and that means there's never a dull moment for us as readers.