Australian writer Kate Forsyth is a new discovery for me. I found out about her latest book, Bitter Greens, which is a retelling of Rapunzel that will be released in the U.S. in October 2014. I requested it on Net Galley and will be blogging about it on Book Babe in October.
So I then took a look at other works by Forsyth to see if anything interested me. I discovered that she had written a series for children called The Chain of Charms that intrigued me because I'm interested in cultural content about the Roma who are commonly known as gypsies.
The version of this series that was available to me through inter-library loan was The Gypsy Crown published by Hyperion. I was initially happy to obtain what I thought was an omnibus edition of the entire series which had originally been released in six volumes in Australia.
The Chain of Charms is a quest series in which two gypsy children seek six charms that had been scattered among six gypsy clans. Each Australian volume is devoted to one of the six charms. I knew something was wrong when the tale of how the charms were scattered was told in the edition that I had, and there were only five charms! How did this happen? Which one was missing? I still haven't gotten the first question answered, but a comparison to a list of the Australian volumes to the list of charms in the tale told in this version of The Gypsy Crown showed that the fourth charm, the Cat's Eye Shell, was the one that had been redacted.
I view this from the perspective of a future librarian. One of my favorite classes in library school was the Intellectual Freedom Seminar. I wrote a paper on expurgation for that course, so I am especially sensitive to this issue. Publisher expurgation is not unusual. It's especially common in children's books. Sometimes it's a preemptive attempt to prevent the book's banning in schools. I don't know that this is the reason why The Gypsy Crown was expurgated by Hyperion. Since I haven't read the expurgated material, I don't even have grounds to speculate about Hyperion's motivations. Yet I am opposed to expurgation regardless of the reasons behind it.
The Hyperion edition also causes bibliographic confusion. In Australia The Gypsy Crown is the first volume in the series, but the Hyperion edition is a good deal more than that. It's also less than readers might reasonably expect. As a "librarian" on Goodreads, which means that I am a cataloging volunteer who helps to maintain the database, I felt it was necessary to add a note to this edition's description that only five of the six books in the series were included. To make an edition specific note, I first needed to separate it from the other editions of The Gypsy Crown on the Goodreads database. Even though it's the most popular edition on Goodreads, it remains separated from the others because the content is different.
Some readers will be wondering why I don't simply review what's there rather than discussing what's missing. I'll be getting to that, but I feel that it's important for readers to know what they're getting when they pick up a book.
In addition to the cultural aspect, I was interested in the book's historical context which is well-portrayed. It takes place in 17th century England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. This is known as the Commonwealth period. Puritanism was the state religion. Those who didn't conform to Puritan doctrines and practices were persecuted. Music, dancing and theater were banned.
Since many of the Roma made their living as performers, they were likely to become targets of Puritan intolerance. Luka, one of the thirteen year old protagonists, is portrayed as a gifted violinist. He and the female protagonist, Emilia, are the only members of their clan who remain unimprisoned after a performance that was the opening event of the narrative. The main motivation behind the quest for the charms is to free their family members. Emilia's grandmother, a seer, had told her that the charms must be reclaimed in order to accomplish this goal.
Emilia and Luka encounter a number of royalist agents who sought to re-establish the monarchy. One such royalist was a highwayman who only robbed Puritan "Roundheads". This character claimed that many highwaymen were royalists. This turned out to have some factual basis. I did a search that revealed a page about Royalist Highwaymen. There was also a reference in this book to a secret royalist organization called The Sealed Knot who have a page that shows that they were considered too cautious by more warlike royalists.
The fantasy aspect of this book involves spells done by Roma characters. Emilia discovers that although the charms can help with her magic, she can do magic without them. If magic comes from within the practitioner, then objects like the charms are only needed as symbolic focuses. I was pleased that Forsyth takes this approach. I prefer it over the competing theory that all the power resides within the magical artifacts.
Although I enjoyed reading about these characters on their quest, I am aware of a hole in the narrative. The Cat's Eye Shell is still calling to me. American readers who also feel this lack may need to venture on a quest themselves.