Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

In this retelling of Han Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Snow Queen, Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, 11, and her sister Alice, 16, travel north with their father to an unnamed country where it always snows.  It is three days before Christmas and the opening of the world's greatest exhibit of swords.  Mr. Whittard is a sword expert who will be helping the museum's curator, Miss Kaminski, with the exhibit, and he is hoping that the trip will help his daughters better cope with their mother's death.  She was a fantasy writer who believed in anything and everything, including that which is magical.

Ophelia, on the other hand, is a realist, possessing the logical mind of a budding scientist.  But she is also a shy, rather timid girl who is an asthmatic and frequently relies on her inhaler, or puffer, as she calls it.  On their first day at the museum, Miss Kaminski takes Alice, a very attractive girl, under her wing almost immediately, ignoring Ophelia to the point of even getting her name wrong and leaving her to wander around the exhibits by herself.

And that is how she meets the Marvelous Boy, locked away in a room at the far end of this enormous museum, a prisoner of the Snow Queen, for the last 300 years.  The Marvelous Boy begins to tell her his story through the keyhole and convinces her to search for a key that will help free him.

Reluctantly, Ophelia plucks up some courage to look for the key, promising herself that would be that once the boy was free.  But over the next few days, Ophelia finds herself looking for two more keys, encountering hungry Misery Birds, ghosts of young girls begging her not to leave them, and vicious wolves, among other dangers.  Luckily, throughout her questing, she is accompanied by the voice and memory of her mother, encouraging her onwards.

While all this is going on, Ophelia begins to notice changes in Alice under Miss Kaminski's mentoring. Slowly, Ophelia begins to get a sense of something evil about the curator, as Alice falls more and more under her spell, becoming as cold and cruel as Miss Kaminski, interested only in the nice things she is allowed to wear.  The incredibly beautiful, but cold curator is also beginning to suspect that Ophelia is getting wise to who she really is and to her purpose for setting up "Battle: The Greatest Exhibition of Swords in the History of the World."  The last quest the Marvelous Boy sends Ophelia on is to find his magical sword and the One Other who will know what to do with it, before it falls into Miss Kaminski's hands.  If it does, at the stroke of midnight Christmas Eve, Miss Kaminski will have the power to rule the world with it.

At first, I didn't care much for this story since fairy tale retellings are not my favorite subgenre.  But the more I read this book, the more I liked it.  And even after I finished, I found myself thinking about Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and remembering bits that I particularly enjoyed.  For example, as Ophelia went around the museum, she keep consulting her map of it, and if you look at the end papers, you will find a rendering of the map drawn by illustrator Yoko Tanaka.

I particularly liked that the voice in Ophelia's head was a good kind mother who really was accepting and encouraging, even if she was dead.  It just goes to show that those we loved really can live on in an important way in our memories.

I also really liked the way Foxlee mixed the magic past of the Marvelous Boy that seems confined to the museum only and the present reality of Ophelia's world outside the museum's perimeter.  Computers, airplanes, Ophelia's inhaler, mix nicely with the Marvelous Boy, the magical sword and a Queen who can make it snow for 300 years, and morph into a museum curator.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fun story, a little slow at times, but still very readable.  It is well written with a well developed protagonist, and although this is predictable good vs. evil fairy tale type story, it has a very exciting, satisfying ending.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend


  1. Hi Alex, I’m sure I would have loved this when I was younger. I won’t add it to my ever increasing ‘must-read read list' but I would probably pick it up if I saw it in a bookshop. Have a great weekend. Barbara

  2. Oooh, I didn't know this was a re-telling of the Snow Queen - that was one of my favorites as a kid. I must have been the only person disappointed in Disney's "re-telling" called Frozen.


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