Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.
The leader spoke to her in stumbling, accented Freyan. "You are a wizard?" . . . His lips tightened. He glanced at the Ugliks holding her, and together they pried her fingers open. She winced as the terrible six-fingered hands wrenched the map away. The leader replaced it in his bag, then took out a rope. Returning to her, he gestured to the ground.
This is a superb effort for Linda Smith's first book-length work. Smith's descriptions are so vivid and well incorporated into the narrative that one can easily visualize the fantasy land of Freya. The main character is the very likeable Kerstin Spelling, daughter of one of the most prominent wizards in the land. Kerstin's relationship with Alaric, an orphan boy who lives with her family, is a dominant element throughout the novel. Since both Kerstin and Alaric are being trained to be a wizard's apprentice and are striving to win the approval of Kerstin's father, their relationship is portrayed as one of love, mixed with jealous competition.
The author sets the stage by having the Freyan history books tell of a terrible invasion centuries earlier by a strange people called the Ugliks. It appears history is about to repeat itself as the Ugliks are believed to be planning an attack, magically changing the weather, and causing a drought in Freya. When Wizard Spelling is away on a voyage, Kerstin and Alaric find themselves summoned by the King's Council. Their task is to combine their talents to protect the Freyan people.
Alaric is chosen to go with the army to protect the people from the Uglik invasion while Kerstin is left at the king's castle. Kerstin feels rejected and angry as she believes her skills are superior to Alaric's. The drama intensifies as Kerstin decides to set out on her own to spy on the Ugliks and help save her people. A series of events follows in which Kerstin takes on the role of adventurer, captive, and eventually hero.
The author's imaginative descriptions of the Ugliks, the innovative spells, and the creation of a zeitgeist all lend a certain authenticity to the novel. Smith continually holds the reader's interest by propelling the story forward through exciting challenges to the credible characters.
Wind Shifter beautifully develops the elements of rivalry, family love, friendship, and independence. The storyline is punctuated with action and suspense, making this a highly enjoyable read and creating anticipation for Linda Smith's next work.
Jo-Anne Mary Benson is a writer/reviewer for North American books, magazines, newspapers and journals.
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