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The Silver Bowl


The Silver Bowl

Diane Stanley has become well known for creative (and often very funny) retellings of fairy tales as well as for illustrated biographies of well-known historical figures, including several from the Renaissance period. In her new book, THE SILVER BOWL, she effectively weaves together many fairy tale motifs with a credible (if fictionalized) Renaissance setting, not to mention her own unique take on fantasy literature. The result is a novel that feels reassuringly familiar but also engagingly fresh and new.

When her cruel, hard-drinking father needs to cut down on the number of mouths to feed, Molly is the obvious choice; she's always been a little wild, perhaps even too much like her mother, whose madness has kept her locked away for years. In fact, just hours before Molly is to be sent to work as a scullery maid at the royal palace, she learns an important secret from her mother: the gift of clairvoyance runs in their family and is the reason her mother has been called crazy for so long.

Molly's mother gives her important tips on how to handle her newfound skills, which all-too-often provide sudden, horrific visions of suffering and death, visions that become reality shortly thereafter. Molly has to ask herself: If this "gift" is likely to make her seem insane, if it gives her nightmarish visions without any way to change fate, is the ability to foresee the future a blessing or a curse?

Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in the mysteriously powerful silver bowl Molly is asked to polish. It provides her with her most troubling visions to date, glimpses not only of the future but also of the past, a history that seems to bind Molly's own family to the destiny of the seemingly cursed royal family of Westria. Befriended by Tobias, the fiercely loyal "donkey boy," Molly must figure out how to use her powers to save what remains of the royal family --- and to defeat their curse forever.

There certainly have been any number of fantasy novels that have considered the dual nature of the gift of clairvoyance; others have also featured royalty in disguise, hidden family origins, betrayal cloaked in false loyalties, etc. Diane Stanley, however, embeds these motifs so skillfully into the expansive world she's created that they come off as both completely natural and surprisingly fresh. Her setting, although fictionalized, is clearly based on Renaissance Europe, a world she knows well, and the social structures, dialects and humor seem thoroughly believable, even in the context of a fantasy novel. What's more, Stanley pushes the boundaries of conventional historical fantasy in the climax, which seems to reference Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books rather than traditional fairy tales.

Although THE SILVER BOWL does contain scenes of fairly graphic violence, its themes of loyalty, friendship and persistence --- not to mention its down-to-earth love story --- will appeal not only to teens but also to mature middle-grade fantasy fans.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 26, 2011

The Silver Bowl
by Diane Stanley

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2012
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0061575461
  • ISBN-13: 9780061575464