First in the Rose series
By Holly Webb
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Rose is a young orphan who experiences a rise in fortune when she's hired as a maid since she's the most sensible girl her orphanage had. Her new employer is an alchemist, and in his strange house, Rose quickly starts to realize that she has magic too. But first, she has to figure out why so many children are disappearing.
Originally published in England, ROSE is the beginning of a series, but it stands on its own quite well. (That's the American quite, not the Queen's one.) It's a common story - the orphan, the magic, the daring rescue - but the whimsical elements are so nicely tempered by sensible Rose. Of course, she's still a child, but she's one who thinks things through.
I liked Rose quite a bit, especially her insistence on keeping her job. Employment is economic freedom, and she's free to get another job if she prefers. Rose grew up depending on other people's kindness, and she does not want to go back. At the same time, there's a real sense that she doesn't want to get above her station. These are slightly adult concepts, but Rose's perspective on them felt like a child's, albeit a mature child's.
I find that a lot of British books, particularly ones set in vaguely ye olde times, have a lot of assumptions about class that might go over the heads of younger readers. I like that ROSE grapples with it pretty explicitly. Street children are missed less than rich children. Isabella and Freddie, the privilegedros children in the house, are both brats, but the servants have no power to curb their behavior. (And it certainly reflects badly on Isabella's father - I wonder if that will be addressed in future books.) At the same time, both children are shown to have their good sides. Or, at least, their useful sides.
There's also a talking cat. I'm a sucker for slightly snarky, know-more-than-they're-telling talking animals.
I thought ROSE was a terrific fantasy story for young readers, and I'm quite excited that my library has the UK editions of the sequels. I know what I'm checking out once I'm done with my CYBILS reading.