Book: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
I was drawn to this story for two reasons. First of all, the name Ophelia is in the title. I have long had an affinity for the name, ever since my Nana told me about a friend of hers named Ophelia Foote. Then I saw Hamlet and liked the name even more, and then I saw John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia’s death scene and, gruesome as it sounds, just liked the name even more. Another reason that I picked this book up was because it is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. As I’ve recently mentioned, I am a sucker for fairy tales (authentic, fractured, reinvented, whatever) so between the name and the fairy tale connection, this was a no-brainer for me.
Wish I could say I was into the story as much as the reasons why I read it.
There was nothing terribly wrong with it (there was one semi-significant thing and I’ll get to that later), but there was nothing terribly right about it either.
Ophelia Worthington-Wittard, her sister Alice, and their widowed father have recently moved to London where Mr. Wittard has been engaged to set up a sword exhibit under the direction of the museum’s curator, Miss Kaminski. While exploring in the museum, Ophelia comes across a mural that includes a real door with the words The Marvelous Boy painted over it. Turns out that there really is a boy trapped behind the door in the painting. Moreover, this boy insists that he is a prisoner, sent by a protectorate of wizards from the east, west, and middle to find and deliver a magical sword to the One Other in order to defeat the Snow Queen and save the world. Despite her disbelief in all things magical, Ophelia reluctantly finds herself drawn into rescuing the Marvelous Boy and assisting him on his mission.
Pleasant enough storyline, with an appealing heroine in Ophelia. There is a good fairy tale quest, believable obstacles authentically overcome, good, evil, friendship, and some worthy coming-of-age moments including dealing with grief and finding inner courage. Lots of parts worked, but the story just didn’t gel together as whole for me. Even though I liked many of these parts, I really didn’t have an overall interest in this story. And since it is a reinvention of a fairy tale I know, I certainly knew where the plot was headed and, quite frankly, I was so ready to get there so I would be done reading the story. Not really a whole-hearted endorsement.
Then there was the item that actually bothered me. The identity of the Snow Queen, unbeknownst to the characters, was incredibly obvious to the reader. Now I know that I am an adult reading a book meant for children, but still, I think age-appropriate readers would have figured things out long before Ophelia did. Truly good writing has the reader and the characters figure things out simultaneously. The best children’s authors keep this in mind and do not write down to their readers. Miss Foxless should be cognizant of that. I still have bruises from the two-by-four which she used to apply her foreshadowing.
So there were lots of little things done right, one substantial thing done wrong, and a story that for some reason just didn’t appeal that much to me. I hope that child readers will enjoy this more than I did. But for me, Miss O was kind of a no.