Being a tween girl is confusing enough without being saddled with an ancient Ashera and medallion, the Ledrith Glain, that attract demons and practitioners of magic. So it goes with Ambril, the heroine of RIDING THE CURSED SHOOTS, who is begins the book by being dumped into the Deryn garden via the titular cursed shoot after barely escaping a bout with evil magic wielder Moroz. Thankfully she’s found a temperamental fairy, fLit, to help her learn how to use her own magical powers and deal with the darker side of magic, the kind that may have been involved in her father’s mysterious death.
Some books that are part of series read just as well alone, while others are clearly meant to be read in order. RIDING THE CURSED SHOOTS is one of the latter. If you really want to enjoy this book, be sure to read the first book in the Ambril’s Tale series, The Return Of The Dullaith, before you tackle RIDING THE CURSED SHOOTS.
If you’re tempted to skip The Return Of The Dullaith, then you’ll find yourself literally dropped into the middle of Ambril’s story, with no idea who is who or what is what or, as is often the case, who is what. Author Wendy D. Walter’s tale is populated by an engaging cast of magical characters — such as Parch and Jute, a piece of parchment and a length of twine with distinct personalities — so the lack of backstory for those who did not those who did not read The Return Of The Dullaith (or have slept between reading that book and RIDING THE CURSED SHOOTS) puts the reader at an immediate disadvantage. Characters and situations from the previous book begin showing up within the first few paragraphs, leaving the reader to spend as much time trying to parse who is what and what is what as concentrating on the story.
And the story itself is entertaining and the illustrations are cute. Ambril is a heroine to root for, and her magical and not-so-magical friends are fun to spend time with. The book’s episodic structure will appeal to its intended audience, younger young adult readers, while the darker notes of the story — demons, evil stepfathers and missing fathers — keep it from skewing too young or sweet.
The magical world Walter creates does indeed beg for more stories like RIDING THE CURSED SHOOTS.