Frogkisser, by Garth Nix, follows the story of Princess Anya, the second princess, as she attempts to restore her temperamental older sister's boyfriend back into his true form, after - in true fairy tale fashion - he's been turned into a frog.
What starts as a relatively simple quest, gets a little more complicated when her evil stepfather, a powerful and dangerous sorcerer, decides to make moves towards taking the throne. Now, not only must she obtain the ingredients to brew a bot of transmogrification lip balm, but she must do so while avoiding weaselpeople, assassins, a giant, and more. Not to mention the fact that everyone seems to think that she's going to help save the kingdom, in the meantime... even though she's only the younger sister!
This is exactly the kind of fantasy I would have loved to read, back in those lazy middle school summers. It's a quick read, and absolutely perfect for those in love with fantasy, particularly the younger set who haven't quite graduated to the middle leagues of YA yet.
The book has several strong suits that I think are pretty unique within fantasy, but one of the elements that struck me the most was the concentrated and deliberate inclusion of notable female characters. From fearless and physically strong knights, to capable and wise grand wizards, to even plenty of terrible witches and dark sorcerers, women rounded out significant pieces of the fantasy's main cast. And they weren't just young women, either; there were girls, sure, like our main character, but there were also mothers, and grandmothers, and there were leaders in their field, just as there were novices, as well as women working in teams, and alone, and so much more!
This fantasy was so packed with bad-ass women, it was like it was part of the D&D campaign I play in, rather than a book intended for younger readers. And in a genre that can often get a bad rap for its depictions of female characters, having this tone noticeably set in a middle grade novel was a pretty cool thing to read.
Another element of the novel that I enjoyed - and demonstrated how Nix is making a deliberate decision to adopt some current social sentiments into this particular work - was the remarkable necessity of having Princess Anya acknowledge her privilege. While she wastes no time in complaining about how her evil stepfather is, and that keeping him from securing the throne is her primary goal, she grows to understand that despite the discomfort of that current position, she's still remarkably better off than others in her surrounding village: she has three meals a day, and a comfy bed to sleep in, and clothes to wear that fit her and keep her warm, and that's more than what's guaranteed to others on a daily basis.
Part of Anya's character growth isn't just finding the strength in herself to take on her stepfather and save the kingdom, it's about understanding her place in her community, and how she can use the position she's been lucky enough to inherit, in order to help improve the lives of those around her. That's a pretty special message to be sending through a kid's book with a guy being turned into a frog as the catalytic action.
While all of these lessons are great, they're wrapped up neatly in the greater unique and engaging journey of the book. The whimsical nature of the story - and in particular, its wide and humorous cast of characters, from a likable, old moat monster, to the band of weasel assassins trying to keep Anya from reaching her goals - really reminded me of other authors within the genre, particularly Dianne Wynn Jones. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I wasn't surprised to find her name in the "Acknowledgements" section of the book as an influential factor.
Final Verdict: A fun and adventure with plenty of unique characters and classic world elements, this new addition to the Fantasy canon of Garth Nix was a quick and enjoyable read.
Have you read any great Fantasy releases this year? Have you read Garth Nix before? Let me know, in the comments below!