Title: The Nine Questions
Author: Edward Fenton
Notes: This was a review I wrote as a school assignment in my younger days. This is a really good children's fantasy book, but unfortunately it's so out-of-print that I haven't been able to find it anywhere...and of course I lost the one old copy I had.
III. The setting is a far-off land, somewhat like England. The time is hard to determine but is definitely in the past--the people wear homespun clothes, travel on horses or on foot, and are ruled by kings and queens.
IV. The main character is Willie Boy. He's thirteen and was named after the initials on a watch that his mother left with him. She came to the old woman who raised Willie in a snowstorm for shelter, but she died, leaving her infant son.
Another main character is Gabriella. She worked as a servant in the Inn of Truth at Eldorado because she was an orphan. No one else would take her in because she couldn't cry. She's about the same age as Willie.
The Peddler is also important. He is the villain of the story. He's trying to take over the Weaver's Country and become King, so he must destroy Willie. He appears in many forms, like the Gentleman, the Master of the Fair, and the Weaver's Minister of Light.
V. One important incident is when Willie meets Gabriella. She was working at the Inn of Truth when Willie came there to spend the night. She warned him to be careful, because she had heard the Peddler and the Landlord conspire to rob him. She also took away the poisoned meat the Landlord tried to feed Willie's dog. When Willie finally escaped the Inn, he met an old crone on the way and gave her a juicy pear that he had. Saying that it was the first true piece of gold she had seen in Eldorado, she became the girl, Gabriella.
Gabriella told Willie the story of how she couldn't cry and how the Landlord of the Inn took her in to work. She also says that one day, she met a Fool who read her palm and told her that someday, a prince would come and take her out of Eldorado. Willie doesn't look much like a prince, but she's happy to leave anyway.
VI. I liked this book a lot and would recommend it to anyone. It's easy to read and suspenseful, and is a good fantasy without being weird. For example, it turns ordinary people into important characters by referring to them as the Landlord, the Peddler, the Guard, etc., as if they were the only landlord, peddler, or guard there ever was. In this way, it points out noteworthy characters without giving them strange, unpronounceable names like many fantasies.
It had just enough magic--in the form of a silver whistle that summons animal friends--to satisfy me, and it also had some riddles at the end (the Nine Questions). The story had a happy ending, even though it didn't go on and tell about Willie's reunion with his father. All things considered, I thought this was a very enjoyable book.
The Nine Questions at Amazon.com