Book One of the Everleaf Series
by Constance Burris
Coal is an enjoyable mythic fantasy with themes of loyalty and betrayal, prejudice, and child abduction. Coal is a sixteen-year-old human who has lived in the fey realm since he was five. His best friend is Princess Chaldecony, soon to be queen. Although he loves her, he knows he can never be with her because as a human, he's an outsider and low status. When the princess pressures Coal to help her abduct a human child, it sets them on a path of conflict that could cause Coal to lose everything he's ever valued.
Coal is a great character: a sword wielding blacksmith's apprentice who may or may not have some magic in spite of being human. He has some skill with the sword, yet he also has sensitivity, depth, and loyalty.
The book explores prejudice in a brilliant and heartbreaking way. Coal is black, but he's an outsider in his home not because he's black, but because he's human in the fey realm. The princess also has dark skin, which she chose because of her best friend. Fairies can change their appearance at will, but the princess has always worn dark skin as a sign of her feelings for Coal. This sets up one of the most poignant moments in the book: when Princess Chalcedony changes her skin from dark to white to match the new abducted child, the betrayal of her friendship with Coal feels like a gut punch.
In her author's note, Constance Burris says that she was inspired in part to write Coal by the movie I Know My First Name Is Steven, about an abducted child who was later forced to help abduct another child. Stories of changelings and fey abducting human children are a staple of European fairy folklore, but Burris connects the modern reader to it in a moving way. Watching the mother under the influence of fairy glamour agree to give her child to Chalcedony, when clearly it's the last thing she wants, is heartbreaking.
Coal is a 2015 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction Nominee.
- Protagonist of Color
- Minority Author
Source: Used paperback from KidLitCon swap table.
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