Disney movies, Princess Merida came along right when my own little stubborn child with unruly hair was really getting into movies and for her to see a girl like her go on the adventure Merida did was awesome. My concern with sequels, or tie in books, or retellings is always that they might get it wrong, that, in this case, the book will dull the magic of the story and characters. However, Maggie Steifvater is an always buy for me. Meaning, I dont' care what's she's writing, I'm reading it. I've reread The Scorpio Races every year since it came out and it remains as magical as ever... so if there was ever an author who I trusted to keep the magic of Merida and DunBroch alive, it would be her. Luckily for all of us, she nailed it.
Set a few years after the events of Brave, Bravely finds Merida still in control of her own life, travelling and learning, figuring out who she will be someday. The triplets are older and they too are starting to become their own people, finding their own interests, trying to find their own place. As for Elinor, Fergus and DunBroch, well, they have become a wee bit stagnant, simply living in the moment but not moving forward, just kind of stuck.
Which is where the story begins, with Merida chasing her way into a magical bargin with two gods, Callieach and Feradach, dealing for the future of her family and her community. Given a year to change the fate of DunBroch and everything she loves we get to follow Merida on more adventures as she learns more about the people around her, about her family, and about herself.
What I truly love about this book is how Steifvater allows Merida (and the boys) to grow up. They aren't stuck as the characters we once knew, but they haven't made a giant leap into adulthood either. Merida is still a teen really, older and wiser, but still full of curiosity and possessing the same passion and fire we all loved in Brave. The boys are heading into their teen years, and each is grappling with that in their own way. While the story is firmly Merida's, the glimpses we get into the boys and their personalities and the people they might become add a richness to the entire story. In turn, through the journey we also get peaks at who Elinor and Fergus were before they settled down as the King and Queen of DunBroch. Without giving anything away, I'd love to see a story about the two of them in their younger days and how they brought the clans together, a story lightly touched on here.
Lastly, the other thing that Steifvater does is tie in the history, mythology, religion, traditions and stories of Scotland. While this is a work of fiction, Steifvater makes sure to weave in the real deal- using stories passed down from family member to family member, locations that can be found easily on the map, and even traditional foods. If you are like me, and compelled to always get even more information, you will find yourself googling the gods that Merida encounters and deals with Callieach and Feradach, and end up tumbling into hours of stories about gods and kings and the magic that is hiding right in front of us if we just choose to open our eyes (and our hearts) and look for it.
The combination of characters and setting, and the attention to the detail of Merida's world, makes Bravely feel lived in, like you just popped in to visit an old friend. It makes you want to stick with Merida and the DunBroch clan as they set out on the next chapter of their lives.
I can't wait to put this one on my shelves (I've already ordered a signed copy for a giveway to my students) and I'll make a wish in the well that this isn't the last we've seen of Merida or DunBroch.
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