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The Land of the Silver Apples

Review

The Land of the Silver Apples

Jack is an apprentice bard who is recently returned to his village after his adventures as a Viking captive. His village, having endured a difficult year, has decided to participate in a need-fire ceremony. All the fires in the village are extinguished and then restarted with new flame kindled from two logs rubbed against each other. This is done so that the misfortunes of the past do not linger into the new year.

The ceremony goes awry when Jack's sister Lucy introduces a metal necklace into the ritual. Metal, the village's Bard warns, cannot be used in these kinds of ceremonies because one can never tell where it’s been. If metal has been used as a weapon or for some other evil purpose, it perverts the life force. Believing Lucy has been possessed by an evil spirit, a group of villagers takes her to the nearby Saint Fillian's well, which is believed to cure people of possession.

What they find there shocks and horrifies Jack, who inadvertently offends the spirit of the place. He accidentally causes an earthquake and all the water in the surrounding area to disappear. It is finally decided that Jack and the other young companions --- Lucy; Pega, a freed slave so ugly people believe she is cursed; and Brutus, a charismatic descendent of Lancelot -- should travel the Hollow Road to the realm of the elves and request the water's return.

Children, the Bard explains, are young enough to resist the lure of elves. "'It's a curious thing, but this is one area where children are stronger than adults,'" he says. '"They aren't as easily taken in by illusions, and elves above all else, are masters of illusion.'"

THE LAND OF THE SILVER APPLES is not the first book to set children on a perilous journey underground. The companions entertain themselves, Tolkien-style, with riddles, stories and songs. Like the children in C.S. Lewis's subterranean adventure THE SILVER CHAIR, they must bolster their memories of the world above ground to survive in a place without sun. Their descent into darkness brings them into the realm of all manner of magical creatures. In addition to the elves, there are the knuckers, kelpies, hobgoblins and the mysterious yarthkins. They also encounter several other humans along the Hollow Road, including the severe yet pious Father Severus, and Thorgil, the shield maiden from THE SEA OF TROLLS who is separated from the rest of her raiding party.

The success of Harry Potter has created a renaissance in children's fantasy. Faerie has been an especially popular theme often featuring stories about romances between worlds. Farmer sticks with the medieval construct of elves as fallen angels, not damned to hell, but without souls. As the beings who would not choose sides in Lucifer's war with Heaven, they must earn their souls to get another chance at paradise. Their immortality and lack of compassion make them cruel and fickle beings. They are vain, easily bored and difficult to please.

Farmer uses the conflict with the elves to explore different cosmologies. Jack comes from a druidic-pagan tradition and is dedicated to the life force. Thorgil is the sole representative of the Norse viewpoint in this book, with its emphasis on bravery and infamy. They are joined by Father Severus, a severe but well-meaning monk, who is a devout Christian. Much of the humor here comes from the different characters responding to situations according to their faith. It is also notable that they must use the strengths of all their different faiths to work together and overcome challenges. Jack's approach is primarily intuitive, Thorgil's unflinchingly courageous, and Father Severus introduces an element of discipline that the children need to complete their mission.

THE LAND OF THE SILVER APPLES is less humorous and more fanciful than its predecessor. It easily can be read as a stand-alone title, but readers of the first book will miss Olaf One-Brow, the fierce and vigorous Northman from THE SEA OF TROLLS. What transpires underground involves several great sacrifices. While the companions escape relatively unscathed, it is certain that a great shift in their world is taking place, one that will be revealed in the final book in the series, THE ISLANDS OF THE BLESSED, expected out in 2009.

Nancy Farmer is a phenomenal author for young people. Her work has an ambitious reach far beyond what many adults would expect children to grasp. While she can be read and appreciated by fans of traditional fantasy, her work has a breadth and depth that goes far beyond most invented worlds into the history of human belief. Like her previous book in the series, Farmer put extensive research into THE LAND OF THE SILVER APPLES and includes a bibliography at the end of the book. Her work focuses on an interfaith or intercultural approach to conflict. It features many layers of ambiguous powers working together to attain the most harmonious results. At a time when the newspapers contain many religious and ethnic conflicts, work like Farmer's is essential to understanding our histories, imagining new realities and engaging with the inner workings of the human heart.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on August 21, 2007

The Land of the Silver Apples
by Nancy Farmer

  • Publication Date: August 25, 2009
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 141690736X
  • ISBN-13: 9781416907367