Reviewed by Dena Landon for TeensReadToo.com
A little known fact, that Charlemagne was once gifted with an elephant, becomes the basis for Tarr's deft blend of historical fact and fantasy in this novel. When the elephant arrives in what is now Germany, one of Charlemagne's daughters, Rowan, is instantly captivated. In the excitement over the elephant's arrival at court, another gift, a necklace said to bear a sliver of the cross of Christ, is hardly noticed. Except by Charlemagne's enemies.
A headstrong and stubborn girl, Rowan often sneaks off to spend time in the city or to ride her pony. It is on one of these escapes that she begins to suspect that an ambassador to her father's court may not be all that he seems. Not just a spy, but a sorcerer. When her visits to the elephant bring her into contact with Werrec, the elephant's proud and prickly keeper, Rowan forms an unlikely alliance to foil the sorcerer's plans.
Deftly avoiding many of fantasy's cliches, Tarr creates a richly detailed world populated by intriguing characters. Of particular note is how she stays true to the historical time period and yet makes the magic she envisions, and the solution to the challenges faced by Rowan and Werrec, an integrated part of this world. With a plucky heroine who must overcome her own fear of magic in order to save her father's life, and a hero desperate to prove himself and win back his family's honor, readers of both sexes will find something to enjoy. A fast-paced, shorter read highly recommended for younger teens.