Summer in Orcus is a portal fantasy sort of fairy tale by T. Kingfisher (the YA pen-name for Ursula Vernon). Eleven year old Summer loves her mother, but wishes her mother didn’t love her *quite* so much, and would occasionally let her do things, like go on school excursions, or play outside where someone might grab her. When Baba Yaga offer her her heart’s desire, she doesn’t quite know what it is, but she goes through the door anyway, and finds herself in a world that is full of magic, but under a terrible threat.
This is a simple, kind, sort of story, as I expect from Kingfisher / Vernon. The delight is in the gentle humour and the characters – we have Reginald the Hoopoe, a regency fop of a bird with few brains and a kind heart – think of any character in a regency romance who goes by Freddy, and you will be on the right track. He is part of an entire avian regency society, with his valet birds (who have a flock-mind), and the Imperial Guard Geese, who are fierce enough to give even a wolf pause.
And there is a wolf, too, named Glorious, who is afflicted by a were-house curse. He turns into a lovely little cottage at night, and has to beware House Hunters, who will chain him with silver so that he cannot regain his wolf form.
There is a way station which is also a whey station and has magical cheese. There is a talking weasel. There are women in animal skins, who may or may not be shifters, and trees whose leaves turn to living animals when they fall. There are the antelope women, who are not to be trusted. And there are the villains – Zultan, Grub, and the mysterious Queen in Chains.
While this is an adventure story and a fairy-tale, it is, at its core, a story about figuring out who you are and what you want and how to be the person you want to be. As mentioned above, it’s a very kind story, and the resolution is absolutely right, I think. I’m not sure I’d call it Young Adult – it feels a little younger than that, more the sort of thing that someone who is the right age for E. Nesbit would enjoy.
If there is a flaw, it is that the pacing is a bit slow in places, and it drags a bit in the middle. This is probably not something I’d have minded if I were at an E. Nesbit sort of age – what it lacks in pace it makes up for in avian regency balls and mores – but a little part of me was going, come on now, get on with it…
Definitely a pleasing start to the YA category, however, and I enjoyed it very much.
(It did make me cry at the end, though, but I don’t think it was actually sad, really. I’m just in a strange, sad mood today.)