The Silver Gate
Though there are many opinions as to what constitutes a good fairy tale, there are a number of characteristics often associated with most: good vs. evil characters, poverty (often afflicting the good) and riches (often held by the evil), commoners and royalty, and some form of magic, mystery, and/or serendipitous coincidence. Kristin Bailey’s THE SILVER GATE employs all of these elements as it weaves its tale.
"Bailey’s premise is interesting; it holds the reader’s attention and creates sympathetic characters in Elric and Wynn....Yet even as I rooted for Elric and Wynn, I sorely missed the many opportunities not taken by the author to further develop these characters."
Thirteen-year old Elric lives a life of servitude with his father; they work the land for the lord to whom Elric’s family is indentured, and it is Elric’s job to tend the sheep. He and his father toil long hours, with very little to show for their hard labors. Like the other serfs in their village, they would be destitute without the protection of their lord, and they are bound to him for life. Theirs is a dangerous world; attempt to leave and one risks the violence of the open roads; fail to produce what is expected by one’s lord and it means the life of a slave, accompanied by starvation and beatings.
Superstitions dictate much of the behavior of the commoners, all of whom fear the fairy realm and its queen, whom they believe steals healthy human babies, leaving in their places unclean changelings which bring bad luck and tragedy. For as long as he can remember, Elric has hidden the existence of his 11-year old sister Wynn, who is called “half-wit” by some, changeling by others, and whom he fears will be cast out or killed if she is discovered.
Elric finds his father’s solution to the problem of Wynn to be cruel and heartless, so he runs away with Wynn, hoping to find her a safe haven. As the two travel, Wynn displays abilities which surprise Elric, even as she makes mistakes which repeatedly endanger their lives. Wynn believes that the fairies will save them, if only they can find a silver branch sung about in an old folk tune; Wynn is certain that the branch will lead them to a magical gate through which they can enter the fairy realm and find shelter, safety and bounty.
Bailey’s premise is interesting; it holds the reader’s attention and creates sympathetic characters in Elric and Wynn. Third-person limited point-of-view effectively alternates both their perspectives. Yet even as I rooted for Elric and Wynn, I sorely missed the many opportunities not taken by the author to further develop these characters. This is a hero’s journey for Elric, but he never develops as a hero; nearly the entire story finds Elric vascillating widely between his sympathy for Wynn and his impatient, unkind outbursts at her. In fact, Elric is ambivalent and undecided until fate, in the end, quite literally falls into his lap. Although Wynn’s voice is poignant and informative, she never feels as fully developed as the potential her character represents. Wynn is a role model for those who are different…but, other than her faith in her beliefs (represented by the fairy realm), none of her strengths are celebrated. The weakness in characterization of the novel might be less noticeable had the journey’s end been more impactful, but here, too, the potential of the story is not reached. Rather than a clever resolution of the conflict and reveal of the mysteries within the story, the Fairy Queen, upon meeting Wynn, simply tells the children everything…all tell, no show. Sadly, there is no clearly developed moral to the story, and the moral is an expected concept in a fairy tale, essential to its thematic value.
THE SILVER GATE is a story which holds potential only partially realized. The conclusion leaves open the possibility of a sequel, as the Fairy Queen issues Elric a direct call to action. If Bailey continues Elric and Wynn’s story, this reader hopes the next tale will provide more facets to the personalities of these sympathetic protagonists.
THE SILVER GATE will appeal to elementary/middle grade readers who like a dark fairy tale with an untraditional happy ending.
Reviewed by Donna Rasmussen on January 3, 2017