By Eleanor Glewwe
Published 2014 by Viking Juvenile
Marah's hope for the future lies in her talent as a violinist. But when a devastating illness begins spreading in her city, there may be no hope for anyone. With the help of an unlikely ally, Marah will try her best to discover the secrets behind the illness and hopefully put a stop to it.
I requested the e-galley of this because I'm a sucker for fantasy. I thought it sounded new and interesting, and I'm still trying to read more middle-grade (but the YA is just so tempting!).
Though I didn't think of it in these terms while reading, Glewwe has written what is essentially an allegory of fairly typical class struggles. Marah belongs to the non-magical class, and her world is defined by this. Her opportunities are limited and she can't help but be aware of how difficult her life might be if she can't seize her chances when they appear. The new illness that begins to spread is, of course, a game-changer. It strikes indiscriminately, for once sadly putting Marah in the same boat as those who can do magic. Through a serendipitous turn of events, Marah comes in contact with a forward-thinking magician boy and, together, they seek to uncover the source of the illness and its cure.
I think Glewwe does a good job accurately depicting oppression in a way that is both easy to understand and not mind-numbingly depressing. Marah is an easy heroine to root for, though sometimes I felt like her talent with the violin was only discussed when a break from the action was needed. The story is quite predictable and relies pretty heavily on coincidence - the circumstances by which Marah and Azariah begin their partnership seem pretty unlikely to me. The secrets behind the dark eyes illness are completely unsurprising, though the story is still engaging enough to want to see exactly how it plays out. Additionally, if I were a teacher, I can see using this book and then discussing instances of real-life racial genocide. Pretty heavy topics for a middle-grade novel, but important.
A few quibbles I had: I spent a good portion of time trying to figure out Glewwe's influences on her magic system and language. I don't know why I just assumed that she had been influenced by a particular set of beliefs, but I distracted myself trying to figure out what it was. Additionally, Marah is a bit older than I usually like my middle-grade protagonists.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.