I Coriander by Sally Gardner

“I am Coriander Hobie.

 I was born in the year of Our Lord 1643, the only child of Thomas and Eleanor Hobie, in our great house on the River Thames in London. Of my early years I remember only happiness. That was before I knew this world had such evil in it, and that my fate was to be locked up in a chest and left to die.

This is my story. This is my life.”

And it is a wonderful story, quite beautifully told.

Coriander writes her story of life in 1650s London by candlelight, with each of her seven chapters ending as one of her seven candles burns out.

It’s a fascinating era, under-represented in fiction. The Civil war is over, the king has been executed and the monarchy has been replaced by a commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.

That world comes wonderfully to life on the page, and an engaging heroine, with a fine supporting cast, keeps the pages turning.

Coriander had a happy childhood, but then her mother died and her father was quickly remarried, to a strict Puritan widow.

It’s shocking, but understandable. Remember that England was in  turmoil with suspected royalists being denounced, and Puritans  holding sway. And Thomas Hobie was a silk merchant, allied with the losing side. Maybe he thought he was doing the best thing for his child, ensuing her safety in the new world order.

But he wasn’t. When he had to go away his new wife called in a fundamentalist Puritan preacher and the pair of them waged war on the frivolities of the household. They to take away the name that Coriander’s beloved mother had given her, and re-christen her with the more suitable, plain and sensible, name of Ann. Villains indeed!

Horribly believable villains, and they allowed Sally Gardner to say an awful lot about politics, religion, and the wrongs that may be done in their names.

It’s fortunate that Coriander had good friends to show that there was love, understanding and tolerance in the world too.

Coriander stood up for herself, but she could not win. Eventually she would be shut away in a chest and left to die.

But she didn’t die. She escaped into the fairy world that her mother had come from years earlier.

Yes, Coriander’s mother was a fairy. I might have mentioned it earlier, there were signs that Coriander was being called to her mother’s world, but for me it was the least interesting element of the story.

She meets a handsome prince and she learns more about her past, why she has been called into that world, and what she must do when she returns to her own world.  

It’s lovely, beautifully written and cleverly constructed, but just a little under-developed. And the rest of the story was so good that, I’m afraid, nothing less than perfect would do!

Coriander returns to her life six years after she left, causing much consternation. She is changed, the world is changed, and events build to a fine conclusion in two worlds.

A fine conclusion to a wonderfully rich and absorbing story.

Not quite perfect, but perfection was so very near.

11 responses

  1. I just checked my Goodreads and guess what?? I read this in 2006!!! Different cover so that’s probably why I didn’t make the connection, that and I’ve read 100’s of books since then! I gave it a 4 out of 5.

    • The same thing has happened to me – I started blogging to try to fix books into my mind a little better. And 4 out of 5 sounds right to me.

  2. I also found this book fell a bit flat. I liked the premise and the story, but it just didn’t click for me. I much preferred Gardner’s The Red Necklace, though I didn’t like the sequel, The Silver Blade, nearly as much as the first.

    • There was maybe a more interesting story to be told, I think purely in post civil war England, but the two elements just didn’t add up to a convincing whole for me.

  3. I bought this for my daughter a year or so ago but neither of us have read it yet. I did enjoy The Red Necklace though so I must bump this higher up the TBR pile especially as my daughter has a long summer break this year (just taken her GCSE’s) and could do with something to read that doesn’t involve vampires!

  4. I read this book two years ago and was troubled by some disturbing parts in the book. But I thought it was a good read. I look forward to reading other books by Sally Gardner. 🙂

    Here is my review of the book.

  5. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: June 26, 2010 | Semicolon

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