Author: Ariel

Nominator: Inkling

2005 Award Category: Races/Places: Hobbits: Pre-War of the Ring - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Novel

Rating: PG-13  ✧  Reason for Rating: violence and mature themes

Summary: Brandy Hall in 1377 was a magical place for young Frodo Baggins, until a sullen cousin, a fabulous necklace and a deadly fall make life, and living, very difficult for him.

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Reviewed by: Inkling  ✧  Score: 10

This is an ambitious, complex, and deeply absorbing story, weaving together two major story lines and several subplots. It’s all here: a large cast of memorable characters, heart-felt emotions, serious themes, a wealth of background material…the things that bring a story to life! The characterizations—both canon and original—are all first-rate. Albarus Clearwater is the villain you love to hate, one of the few evil doctors I have encountered in fiction. The thoughtfully portrayed Drogo is the father you wish every child could have; I kept longing for him to return and set everything, and everyone, to rights. Just one of the qualities of the story that made it seem Dickensian to me… In between are many characters painted in nuanced shades of grey. The disagreeable Dody is gradually revealed as a deeply troubled youth who wins our sympathy, while his stepmother, Marietta, turns out not to be the witch Dody sees her as—though neither is she an angel. Ariel has a talent for revealing a character’s many facets…for example, managing to make Menegilda likeable to the reader, even though she and Drogo loathe each other. Frodo’s strength of character is revealed in so many little ways: his perception that Dody’s neglect presents an opportunity, his determination to “fix” his problems with his mother, and above all his refusal to wallow in self-pity, The description of Brandy Hall is marvelous; I could picture it perfectly. And Ariel captured very well the nuances of the hobbits’ social class system…healers are not working class, but neither are they gentry. “Primula…retained a distance that Daisy found strangely reassuring.” I mentioned serious themes, and there are several: alienation, parental fear, and child abuse. Ariel does a masterful job of capturing the destructive dynamic between abuser and victim. Especially horrifying was the idea that Dody was trying to goad his father into beating him to death. And what a chillingly believable portrait of an abuser—from the eagerness in his voice beforehand to his creepy repentance afterwards. While there are many dark moments, the story ends on a lovely note of hope and redemption, in which everyone truly gets what they deserve and we are able, for that moment at least, to suspend our knowledge of the sorrow and loss that lie in Frodo’s future.

Reviewed by: SilverMoonLady  ✧  Score: 10

This is a wonderfully told tale, of happenings sometimes dire and sometimes uplifting, and a journey of growth for one young person from self-centered childhood to awakening maturity. It touches upon topics often difficult to address, without melodrama or lightness, but a sure and balanced mix of objective thought and appropriate emotion; the characters draw in the reader and make the issues real, without yanking willy-nilly upon our heart-strings. Despite the years that have faded behind, it is easy to remember the rebellious anger, the arrogance and resentment of the teenaged state, no longer coddled but not yet respected (or so it is perceived), that Dody carries so fully. Every sibling since history began has looked ill on the usurping child behind him, and this is beautifully spelled out in Dody’s reaction to his younger cousin Frodo’s privileged status: hurt, bereft and suddenly ignored, how could he not take it ill? The torturous path of self-discovery that Ariel takes this lad upon, prompted by a terrible accident, gives him full opportunity to shrivel or shine, and before the first few chapters close, one can’t but turn every page presented to find this young hobbit’s fate! Twined with this journey, we are presented with a frighteningly accurate and delicately handled nightmare of parenthood, the mortal peril, however accidental, of one’s child. The picture painted of Primula here is one that has stayed with me since I first read this piece; all the strength of mother-love, all the terror of loss, real, imagined or feared, the temptation to disconnect and the determination to undo the damage, by force of will if nothing else, all of it rings so desperately true! Ariel’s portrayal of little Frodo ably shows the seeds of the courage, compassion and resilience that would prove to be such an important part of his adult self and of the realization of the Quest. All in all, a masterful piece of fiction, wonderfully written and lovingly presented by an artist who deserves all praise that comes to her!

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 6

This is a long and suspenseful story, centering around a very young Frodo, and a cousin, a very well-realized OC, who starts out not liking our lad very well. Through a series of traumatic and dramatic events concerning them both, they come to admire and care for one another. I also love the portraits drawn by this author of Frodo's parents, especially Drogo, who comes across as sensitive and level-headed. The story is also very well-plotted, with no loose ends dangling. The picture of life in Brandy Hall and Buckland is intriguing as well. I do love this story, especially the POV character, Dody.

Reviewed by: Lindelea  ✧  Score: 3

Ah, definitely an offering from the Queen of Angst! This is a story I read early on, I think, before I knew much about the review process. Characters deftly drawn, descriptive detail that puts the reader in the scene, and plot that keeps the reader on the edge of the seat, breathing shallowly, half-dreading to read on... Masterful writing, indeed.