The Mysterious Mandolin by Aneta Cruz
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (137 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
The Mysterious Mandolin is a tale of two stepsisters whose love for one another must overcome death, wickedness of dark magic, and bullying. This fairy tale juxtaposes the light and the dark side of characters and settings, while it examines the lengths to which people would go in order to achieve what they most desire.
Magic is many things, but it isn’t always predictable.
The premise caught my attention immediately because I’m a lifelong fan of anything that could be said to begin “once upon a time.” Within a few pages I was hooked and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The writing was crisp and clean. Given that it was divided into short chapters, I think this would be a good book to read aloud. I enjoyed it so much that I actually read the whole thing over the course of a single day!
The characters were all two-dimensional. While I completely understand that fairy tales make sharp distinctions between right and wrong, this story would have easily earned a much higher rating had the narrator attempted to explain why someone who is surrounded by nothing but negative influences would choose to be good. This would have fit in beautifully with the other messages that are woven into the plot as well.
The metaphors were a lot of fun. Ms. Cruz has an incredibly imaginative approach to describing what are usually completely ordinary experiences. Her writing style is well-suited to this genre. If I had to pick only one of her metaphors as my favourite, it would be the one she used to describe one of her characters trying on a dress. The dress slipped on “like butter onto a hot pan.”
It took me a while to figure out the best age recommendation due to some potentially frightening content. While the violence is written in the highly stylized manner I’d expect to find in this genre and mostly happens offscreen, it was described in just enough detail that I raised my original recommendation by a few years. Some children in early elementary school may be perfectly comfortable with what happens, but this is something that parents and teachers should decide on a case-by-case basis ahead of time.
The Mysterious Mandolin is a good choice for anyone who loves traditional fairy tales.