I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

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I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A patchy book combining historical fiction and fantasy. The historical side is strong, the fantasy very weak. However, the writing is of a high quality and happily lacking in anachronism. I, Coriander would probably appeal to the history-loving early teen. Fans of fantasy need not apply.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: June 2006
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
ISBN: 1842555049

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Coriander lives in London in the time of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell is Lord Protector and Charles II is in exile. Coriander's family are staunch Royalists. With the rise of the Puritans, there are troubled times ahead for Coriander and her family and their political troubles are only compounded by their family background. Coriander's father is a London merchant, but her mother is a fairy princess who can remain in our world only so long as her enchanted shadow is protected from the evil Queen. After her mother dies, only Coriander is left to protect her family and to save the prince of the fairy world.

It's all a bit of a mess, really. I, Coriander is nicely written, full of the atmosphere of Commonwealth London. The language is authentic and Gardner manages to retain a formal narrative accessible to teens and pre-teens without resorting to anachronism, a particular dislike of mine. I caught one adult character saying, "faking it" but that was it. There are some marvellous descriptive passages which retain an admirably simple construction. Try:

"It was getting late by the time I arrived back at the house. The big black dog of night with its belly full of stars had already rolled over on the day."

Very nice.

The protagonist and narrator, Coriander, is an attractive character. She's strong, independent, but entirely credible in her time and place. The supporting cast of characters is equally solid. Grief is presented in a thoughtful and honest way, as is the way it can twist a family in irrevocable ways. Child abuse is presented sensibly and would make a good topic for further discussion. In this double-stranded story, everything in the real world is wonderfully realised. Any child of 11 and up with an interest in history would find it both interesting and challenging.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the fantasy dimension. This is poorly-plotted and superficial. It simply isn't as strong as the historical element. The connection between the two worlds is equally weak - involving a Cinderella-style pair of silver shoes and some rushed paragraphs. The denouement of the story is tied up in exactly the same rushed fashion.

Ultimately, we are left with a light, unoriginal fairy story that would appeal to the pre-teen combined with some strong historical fiction for early teens and even beyond. I, Coriander is a very uneven book. The fantasy dimension needed more mystery and less fairy-story definition if it could even hope to appeal to a sophisticated teen audience. It's a big shame, because Gardner really does write well. I, Coriander is her first novel, and I would hope that with some more experience the next books will be better. I'll certainly read them, but I think I'll borrow from the library first, just to be on the safe side.

I, Coriander might be of interest to the very patient history buff of a child who'd put up with the awful fantasy sequences. It might even be of interest to the very young but enthusiastic reader who would struggle through the history and enjoy the fairy tale. But for the majority of children, it's simply likely to make them lose patience.

If your child likes history, magic and fantasy, better books include The Owl Service by Alan Garner and A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle.

Buy I, Coriander by Sally Gardner at Amazon You could get a free audio download of I, Coriander by Sally Gardner with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy I, Coriander by Sally Gardner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I, Coriander by Sally Gardner at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy I, Coriander by Sally Gardner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I, Coriander by Sally Gardner at Amazon.com.


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ec307 said:

I completely disagree. It is the best book I've ever read.

Jill replied:

Well, the book won a Nestle award, which is voted for by children, so I guess that just goes to show how much I know! I still think the fantasy section was dreadful though, sorry.

francesgoldman said:

i think it is a great book. but the historical side of it is much stronger than the fantasy.

sophia_odey said:

I recommend it as a five star

Its the first book that i have read,which is by sally gardner I don`t think there is oen bad bit in the story

dare.devil.pie.95 said:

this book was a great book! i love it!

asifiwouldtellu said:

I,Coriander is a great book too good for words.

It is mysterious,thoughtful and creative.

5 out of 5. My favourite passage is "The world we live in is nothing more than a mirror that reflects another world below its silvery surface,a land where time is but a small and unimportant thing, stripped of all its power. I hope to find you there.

lauren said:

i coriander is the best book i have ever read it is so facinating that i read it in a day from lauren