by Dia Calhoun
Princess Avielle is a Dredonian Rhian, whose silver skin makes her appearance closer to that of her Dredonian ancestors than that of most of the other inhabitants of Rhia. Dredonian Rhians are generally despised and distrusted in Rhia, because of Rhia’s uneasy relations with its neighbor Dredonia. But Avielle is despised more than most; she resembles her great-great-grandmother, the legendary evil Dredonian sorceress who killed all the birds in Rhia with her curse, which continues to keep Rhia bird-free. In spite of her royal blood, Avielle is treated with suspicion and contempt by everyone, including members of her own family.
But when the palace is destroyed by Dredonian terrorists, Avielle’s entire family is killed and Avielle herself forced to go into hiding. Avielle stays with Gamalda, a kind older woman who possesses weaving magic. Gamalda helps Avielle to discover her own magic, magic which Avielle resists because she fears that she will become like her great-great-grandmother. Conditions deteriorate in Rhia, as without a king or queen, the Council considers whether to acquiesce to the demands of the Dredonian sorcerers known as the Black Cloaks. Hatred and discrimination grows against the innocent Dredonian Rhians, as the people of Rhia fear what the Black Cloaks will do. Eventually, Rhia will have to decide whether to remain in the safety of her concealment, or whether to face her fears, including her fear of her own magic, and risk everything to save her friends and her country.
Avielle of Rhia is a beautifully written book with special meaning for post-9/11 teens. The attack on the palace is clearly a 9/11 analogue, and the discrimination afterwards against the Dredonian Rhians clearly parallels our country’s treatment of Americans of Arab descent since 9/11, although there are also some Holocaust references here as well. We spent a lot of time in the Cybils nominating committee discussing this allegory and what it meant for the book. Some of the nominating committee felt that it was an author trying to make a statement, which detracted from the book. Others, including me, felt that it wasn’t a statement so much as it was a reflection of the concerns of young people today.
Avielle was a weak and fearful character, which made it hard to like her at first. Of course, a weak character can be a good thing because it offers opportunities for growth, but I felt that it takes Avielle too long in the story to come into her own. There is some growth throughout the story; it was interesting watching her get to know her new neighbors on Gamalda’s street and become friends with them. Those friendships become very important in the story, because Avielle is truly redeemed by the love of her friends. I just would have liked to see her do something to stand up for her friends sooner in the book.
In spite of its flaws, though, I loved this book. The world and the characters are interesting, and the writing is lovely. I personally liked the 9/11 angle, and didn’t feel that it was too preachy. Avielle of Rhia should have a lot of appeal to teens who love a rich, detailed fantasy world.
Avielle of Rhia is a Cybils nominee.