Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

Coriander was born in 1643 to a loving mother and father, a wealthy merchant in London. One day her mother dies and it is not long before her father remarries, an unkind, unloving Puritan. Bullied and beaten by the step-mother and her preacher Coriander one day finds escape in another world. It is not long before she in embroiled in fighting evil in both worlds. Not only must Coriander survive the plots against her, she must also survive in the tumultuous world of the Commonwealth, where Royalist sympathizes are quickly quashed. Can she rescue herself and all those dear to her?

I have to say when I found out which period this book covered I was quite excited. I an an English Civil War re-enactor so 17th century is a period I love. Also having read 'The Red Necklace', also by Sally Gardner, I had high hopes for this book. I was not disappointed on either account. It was a very beautifully written book, which really evoked 17th century life and yet managed to weave in a lovely fairy story without it seeming too contrived.

The historical accuracy of the book is not bad. I suspect true experts of this period would be able to poke a lot of holes in it but I could see no particularly glaring errors. The ideas about witchcraft, the Puritanical extremes and the fear felt by ordinary people in the days of the Commonwealth were all well executed. I even liked the depiction of the Doctor and his remedies, something which may seem incredulous from a modern standpoint but there were some really daft remedies going around at the time.

The clever interweaving of the real events of 17th century London, such as the execution of Charles I, and the fairytale were brilliant. It was almost believable that there could be a fairy world just beyond our own. It felt like a good old fashioned fairy tale, carefully grounded in reality but with wonderful fantasy. I really did enjoy this combination.

The book is intended for children and young adults so don't expect it to be long, intricate and deep. It is an enjoyable little read, perfect holiday reading or on a wet afternoon with a hot drink. It really evokes for me warm childhood memories of lying on my bed and escaping to new worlds. If you're looking for a light read but with a historical bent and you don't mind fairy tales this is the book for you.

*5 stars*

If you enjoyed reading this book why not try The Red Necklace also by Sally Gardner?


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read other people's reviews of this one, most of which are glowing. I really wanted to like it, I really liked the descriptions of London, I liked the voice and the narration - but I got really creeped out by her sudden jumps in age without experiences or memories to help her grow. I kept wondering how her brain and emotions were supposed to keep up with her body's sudden jump, especially when the romance started happening. How did you deal with this issue? Did you see it as an issue?

My full review's on my blog, In the Booley House.

Self Confessed Walkover said...

I didn't see it as an issue because I treated the tale as a fairytale. Lets face it, time passes strangely and reality has to be suspended when reading Hans Christian Anderson and other folk tales. I think the problem with this story is that because it is set in a recognisable period, with real details, it becomes harder to treat it like we would a fairy tale. After all, I don't remember Cinderella having to deal with puberty (although I suppose it depends on when you start the story, when she's a small child or when she's an adult). Nor do they cover the problem of awaking in the future and getting used to a new world in Sleeping Beauty. It's all conveniently papered over.

Perhaps the problem is that we often expect too much from our books as adults. We need some gritty realism and whilst we can suspend reality we can't do so indefinitely.

Anonymous said...


I don't see the puberty jump in the fairy tales you mentioned - Cinderella ages normally, and Sleeping Beauty's sleeping jaunt happens when she's post-pubescent - and her body doesn't age, so she doesn't need to deal with any dismorphia.

Also, we tend to forget that fairy tales are creepy. In many versions, Sleeping Beauty is raped while asleep. Red Riding Hood does an elaborate striptease for the wolf. Snow White is raped while thought to be dead. But the creepiness in fairy tales isn't problematic, because it's allowed to be creepy. I, Coriander has a veneer of sweet pleasantness to it which makes the creepiness lurking underneath all the more disturbing.

Personally, I find that I prefer the detailed, updated fairy tales (or myths or sagas) which really deal with all the inherent creepiness - like Impossible, Hush, or Madapple. But that could just be me.