by Julie Berry
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
First line: "'What will you do when school is over, Evie?"
Fifteen year old Evie is nervous and excited as the school year draws to a close in her tiny village of Maundley. The kingdom of Pylander seems to be generic stand-in for medieval Europe. More than anything, Evie wants to travel to the capital city of Chalcedon and study medicine. But now it seems that the capital is coming to her! Handsome young King Leopold III is coming to town on a sort of "king's progress" to check up on the far-flung corners of his kingdom. After using her amazing healing abilities to save the life of a member of the king's court, Evie's awarded a full scholarship at university. She and her best friend Priscilla (also a scholarship recipient) and sometime crush Aidan make a journey for the capital.
After running into every danger imaginable, Evie finds herself on a sea voyage, even after being warned to stay away from the ocean. And that's when things get really interesting. She soon makes the acquaintance of a giant sea serpent - essentially a sea dragon - whom she's unknowingly been bonded to her whole life. One shipwreck later, and now in the possession of a shrunken sea dragon, Evie finds herself swept up by Princess Annalise from the neighboring kingdom of Merlia. The Princess is also secretly a serpentina, with various magical powers that are feared and mistrusted by the religious Pylanders. Clair, Evie's sea serpent, was a real pleasure to read. He shifts from being childish and cranky to encouraging and wise. He sees most humans as food, but is fiercely loyal to Evie.
The book is a highly readable middle-grade adventure, as Evie makes her way across the country, meeting many new friends and enemies along the way. There's a possibility of romance, lightly hinted at, with her old family friend Aidan, who's been in Chalcedon studying masonry, but that's absolutely not the focus of the story. A few of the connections seemed like a bit of a stretch. Evie runs into the played-for-laughs flirty Commedia Dell'arte twin brothers Alfonso and Rudolpho multiple times. Things come very dramatically to a head when she and the twins finagle their way onto the king's honeymoon cruise in order to alert him of the danger he faces from his scheming new bride.
There's a real twist to the ending that I definitely didn't see coming. I'm a little disappointed that this book is a stand-alone; there's definitely room for more adventures to unfold in this world.
I borrowed this book from the library.