I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Ogress and the Orphans, there’s a town called Stone-in-the-Glen. It used to be lovely, before the library and the school burned, before the citizens became selfish and solitary. Now, it is an unkind place, but at least the Mayor—a famed dragon slayer, according to… well, to the Mayor—is a wonderful leader. An ogress lives on the edge of town and gives food to the townspeople in secret, especially to her favorites: the residents of the Orphan House. But one day, one of the orphans goes missing, and the town is thrown into upheaval. Fingers point, most of them at the ogress. So it’s up to the children to reveal the truth about not only the ogress’ kindness, but also the true root of the problems in their town.
This is such a sweet, charming story! It’s told in the tone of a good old-fashioned fairytale. This does mean there’s rather a lot of telling, rather than showing, but it’s not done in the way of an incompetent writer. Instead, it’s evocative of a story told aloud around a campfire or in a cozy cottage.
The characters are excellent. All the children (well, the ones old enough to speak) are all distinct. I loved Cass and Anthea best, though Bartleby and Elijah were also wonderful. And the ogress is a delight, as are the crows. My favorite character might be Harold, though, simply because who wouldn’t love a talking crow?
There’s a lot of wit and love in this story, and I love what it says about neighborliness and kindness. Sometimes the way these concepts and lessons are delivered are almost preachy, but it’s not as if morality plays and fairytales of old were subtle, so I guess that fits right into the genre. And the way these themes match with both Stone-in-the-Glen and our own world now is perfect. The metaphors are really obvious, but that’s okay. And, to be fair, they’re obvious to me, an adult in her twenties, but they might not be so obvious to kids who are reading this sort of story for the first time.
In the end, The Ogress and the Orphans is very endearing. The magic is fun, the characters are amazing, the plot is entertaining. There’s not a ton of fast-paced action scenes, being a much more character-driven story, but it’s great. The themes are so important, and all in all, this book will make you smile.
The Ogress and the Orphans is available now!