Leaving home can be both exciting and scary, with new places, new people and maybe a bit of adventure. In Patricia Elliott’s teen novel, Murkmere, 15-year-old Aggie is understandably thrilled when she gets a chance to leave her dull life in the village to be a paid companion to the ward and heir of the local lord. Even warnings from her friend Jethro cannot put Aggie off and things seem to go well at Murkmere, at least at first. The steward of the manor, Silas Seed, is warmly welcoming and the Master of the manor, who is wheelchair-bound, has clearly chosen Aggie for this position, partly because of her age and partly because her late mother was once a maid at Murkmere. Leah, the Master’s ward, is not happy with her new companion and views Aggie with suspicion and anger. Leah is not Aggie’s only problem. A believer in the divine power of birds, Aggie is aghast to learn that Leah and the Master both disdain this official religion of the state. Silas asks Aggie to report back any odd behavior by Leah and while Aggie worries about her mistress being in moral danger, she is uncomfortable with spying. Even after Leah opens up a bit, Aggie still feels lonely and longs for home. All this changes after Leah finds a swan skin, one that has a strange pull over the young heiress.
Elliott’s fantasy echoes the fairy tales in which enchanted princesses becomes swans, but her story has a dark side, with deep secrets and evil schemes. The intriguing characters, twisting plot and atmospheric settings make this a fascinating page-turner that will beguile as well as thrill. It is a perfect book for those who like a gothic edge to their stories. Colleen R. Cahill is Recommending Officer of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the Library of Congress.