In the last book of P.K. Butler’s middle-grade trilogy, 12-year-old Claire, who has a spiritual connection with birds, visits her Irish relatives and discovers a secret about her ancestry.
Claire, her friend Victor, and her mother learn that Claire’s grandmother, Kathleen, and great grandmother, Mamo, may have to sell the family castle—their home and livelihood. The prospective buyer wants to open it as a museum, requiring a new parking lot that would destroy the habitat of nesting curlews, a rare bird species.
Kathleen tells the family she’s worried about Mamo’s mental health because she talks about fairies and magic and has invited six old friends to stay indefinitely, without charging them. Meanwhile, Mamo tells Claire she’s a descendent of Gealala, and has inherited her magic blood, which empowers her to protect birds. Mamo’s six friends tell her that each is a representative of a different province and is there to help Claire “defend the Irish curlew.”
The author skillfully weaves in a second plot involving Oak, an exuberant, headstrong young orphan girl who shares Claire’s environmental sensibilities. And she adds an interesting twist: Oak’s foster parents are the castle’s potential buyers.
Unfortunately, readers are likely to feel overwhelmed by the plethora of symbols and overly complicated backstories to explain Claire’s unique ancestry. In addition, there are many scenes which, although well written, don’t advance the story.
Nevertheless, Butler’s characters are strong, original, and expressive, and readers will become wholly engaged in the interplay of the relationships, which change and deepen as secrets are uncovered, problems solved, and understandings realized. And her consistent, rich descriptions lend their own magic: “…she paced alongside the massive stone block wall. Beside it she felt as spectral as a halo of dandelion seeds; a slight breeze might scatter her on the wind.”
Many readers will be sorry to bid farewell to this cast, but they are sure to cheer the end with its welcome surprises.
Also available as an ebook.