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Kirsten Marion
The Silk Road

Middle Grade; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Lucy wants an adventure. Dee needs money to help him find his missing parents. When a flaming bird leads them to a hidden road, and the lord of stone offers them a quest, the opportunity for both arises. In a land full of magic, dragons, and demons, all they have to do is befriend a young emperor—which would be a lot easier if he wasn’t a royal pain and an angry queen didn’t want to destroy him. With the entitled ruler in tow, Lucy and Dee must find a way home with a mysterious feather and a dragon-whisperer (who looks suspiciously like a hedgehog) their only defence against capture...or worse.
Marion launches a striking fantasy series with her debut, introducing resourceful tweens Lucy Banks and Dee Ringrose in an adventure that offers middle grade readers rich emotional reality as the heroes enter a magical world. Lucy’s bedroom is plastered with maps and her bookshelf stocked with National Geographic magazines; Dee built a laboratory in his Aunt Delia’s house to experiment with chemical compounds, often resulting in stinky, messy catastrophes. Lucy’s desire to escape her modest, disordered family home has heretofore only involved running down the street to Delia’s mansion, as she does on a pleasant Saturday afternoon after hearing an explosion in Dee’s lab.

But it’s the summer solstice, and Delia’s assertion that “the veil between the worlds appears exceptionally thin” appeals to Lucy, whose imagination roves to distant lands. When they encounter a mystical bird encircled by fire, the impetuous Lucy leads her skeptical best friend into a hidden world with a dismissive, “Come on, what could go wrong?” Plenty, Marion correctly notes, and soon this engaging, imperfect duo are tasked with protecting Yidi, the arrogant, ineffectual young emperor of Sericea. This pre-industrial realm is ruled by a medieval political structure and powerful magical forces, especially those wielded by Yidi’s evil stepmother, Queen Xixi.

Utilizing familiar elements of fairy tales and fantasy, The Silk Road features a brave girl, brainy boy, and heartened prince who follow the colorful road and long for the safety of home. But Marion doesn’t make the “chosen” Lucy and Dee into saviors, only role models of loyalty, kindness and resilience for the sheltered Yidi. Their rewards are hard lessons: Lucy realizes that her rash decisions have consequences, and the analytical Dee comes to accept that exploration sometimes involves getting lost. The Silk Road will engage young readers eager for an exciting quest on the uncertain path to maturity, where hard-won knowledge is a given, and a happily-ever-after is not.

Takeaway: Likably fallible tweens embark on a fantasy adventure that offers young readers both thrilling escapism and insightful self-reflection.

Great for fans of: Ted Sanders’s The Keepers, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, and Colin Melody’s Wildwood Chronicles.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+

Foreword Clarion Reviews

Clarion Rating: 5 out of 5

In Kirsten Marion’s absorbing fantasy novel Lucy and Dee, two friends help a young royal to fulfill his calling, despite obstacles put in place by his cruel stepmother.

Lucy is an avid travel and exploration aficionado. Dee, her cautious, science-minded companion, wants to transmute lead into gold to help fund his search for his missing parents, who are archaeologists. Together, the friends stumble upon the Silk Road, whereupon they agree, at the behest of Lord Petram (who controls all uncut, “living” rock) to help Yidi, the future emperor of Sericea.

On their travels deep into Sericea, Lucy and Dee are energetic, engaging in inquisitive conversations with the creatures and people whom they meet. Rich details flesh the fantasy world out in concert with the children’s sense of wonder. There are chimerical, horse-like creatures that possess ancient wisdom; there are tanks of translator worms that help Lucy and Dee to comprehend Sericean, too. The outskirts of an imperial palace are a vibrant setting, as are its ornate carved interiors. There are elements both of invention and history, with light nods toward the historical Silk Road’s commerce. And a mysterious sense of magic pervades the world, leading to intrigue––and instances of happy rescue.

The friends contend with the challenges raised by their personal differences—Dee is prudent, and Lucy is impetuous—but also reach mutual understanding, growing together. And Lucy, Dee, and Yidi’s dynamics are also involving: on first meeting, they are reserved; there are questions about what the two friends could have in common with the royal; and Yidi at first behaves in imperious, self-centered manners, though he warms up to Lucy and Dee as the novel progresses, beginning to accept that being a good ruler requires showing compassion to ordinary people.

Hints about evil within Sericea result in suspense, while the designs of Yidi’s icy stepmother remain a source of narrative urgency. There are unpredictable twists as the friends confront these challenges, learning new information at an inviting pace: insights come only when necessary. The trio’s efforts to evade the queen occur by land and involve river travels; even as each challenge arises, they remain a plucky team.

Introducing a fantasy world in which there remains much left to discover, Lucy and Dee is an appealing fantasy novel following two friends on a wondrous adventure, during which good and evil clash, leading to memorable lessons about personal responsibility.

Kirkus Reviews

Unexpectedly trapped in a fantasy kingdom, best friends Lucy and Dee embark on a quest.

Adventurous Lucy dreams of being a world traveler, while cautious Dee wants to be a scientist. Since the disappearance of his archaeologist parents, Dee conducts alchemical experiments, hoping to produce gold to fund a search. Lured by a flaming red bird into a tunnel with a road of silk, the default White duo encounter a stone man who pronounces them “the children we have been waiting for.” He bargains with them to go on a mission to befriend the kingdom of Sericea’s young emperor, a lonely boy facing danger and in need of companions his age. In return, the stone man promises information that could help Dee locate his parents. Traveling on fantastical horselike creatures to the Celestial City, Lucy and Dee meet 13-year-old Emperor Yidi, a petulant, self-absorbed boy controlled by Xixi, his sorceress stepmother. Blond Xixi is a foreigner in this fantasy land that evokes China, and she is intent on retaining her power by eliminating Yidi. Fearing for their lives, the young people flee with Xixi’s forces in pursuit. The trio, including a reformed Yidi who grows in compassion and understands that he is the one who must save Sericea, emerge as credible young heroes making difficult moral choices as they seek a safe place to hide out and regroup. The story ultimately leaves readers in suspense about what happens next.

An enthralling, fast-paced adventure, hinting of more to come. (Fantasy. 9-12)

The Children's Book Review

What to Expect: Friendship, exploration, science, adventure, family

Lucy and Dee are best friends, even if they do like completely opposite things. Dee is cautious and careful, but what he wants more than anything else in the world is to earn enough gold to find his missing parents. Lucy is bold and daring, and what she wants more than anything is to escape her unambitious parents and travel the world. That’s why, when the Lord of Rocks offers them a magical mission on the Summer Solstice, both agree readily.

All they have to do is be friends with the young emperor, and in return, he’ll tell them the secret of transmutation – the magic of turning lead into gold. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, quite a lot…

In the age-old tradition of children’s home-and-away stories, Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road blends magic and reality to transport readers to far-off lands and intriguing situations. Lucy and Dee are relatable characters, whose troubles – from Lucy’s embarrassment about her parents to Dee’s anxiety about trying new things – will be intimately familiar to many readers.  As they discover hidden depths within themselves and learn to see the world in a new light, readers will also pick up important lessons about determination, curiosity, and open-mindedness. Best of all, this is a story bursting with magic and humor.

Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road is a fun and engrossing read, perfect for middle-grade readers who love a new adventure.