Exchange of Gifts, An by McCaffrey, Anne, 2006
I have never read any Anne McCaffrey before, because most of her books looked like fantasy to me, and its only in the last 10 years or so that I have started enjoying that genre. I know now that the Pern books are more SF because, well, that's what Ive been told (what the hell else would have a picture of a dragon on the cover, huh?) An Exchange of Gifts, a very heavily illustrated novella, is my first McCaffrey book. I think I going to enjoy other works by her. This small little piece is by no means a top-shelf selection, but it is a cute little sketch of a story that concerns itself with the themes of love, trust, freedom, choice and destiny. Three stars out of five.
This little bit barely qualifies as a novella. I figure its got just under 17,000 words. The Fantasy Writers of America wont call a story a novella unless its got more than 17,500, but the format and look on the shelf is close enough. Its illustrated by Pat Morrissey, and has 5 charcoal drawings in it, and a two page frame on each fold that repeats it self four times in an octavo. The story itself is kind of a juvenile or YA adventure, and I am personally looking forward to reading this to my little daughter one day.
The story is about a princess who flees her father to avoid a forced marriage, and sets up home in an abandoned hunting cabin she remembers from her youth. Shortly after getting there a young boy named Wisp shows up. She figures that he is running from something too, and takes him in as a house boy. A friendship develops between the two as they remake the cabin into a great home. The princess is a natural gardener, but because of her station in life she was never allowed to work in dirt, and instead was given servants. finally given the chance to explore her natural gifts, the princess grows herbs and makes lotions and balms which the boy takes to the market to sell and trade. The princess is afraid to go with him for fear that she will be recognized as the missing, and presumed murdered, princess from a neighboring land (thanks to the phony evidence she planted on her way out). The two are visited from time to time by those who would exploit them or do them harm, but never more than one time per person. The princess learns eventually that Wisp has a gift as well: He is an illusionist and can change the appearance of anything, including the princess' face, or the forest around them, and that is how he has been keeping them safe. In the end Wisp is revealed to be not a boy but a young man. They resolve to make a home together wherever they are, and share their gifts and skills with each other through a symbolic sharing of blood.
There's not too much more to say about this book. McCaffrey drew her characters carefully, but not ploddingly. In any event, its really not a character sketch. The story moves slowly, but its really more of a pastoral than an action or mystery book. Its really not a warm up for a bigger story either, and seems to be stand-alone. Its also published by Wildside Press, which means that it may even be contract book, as they put out lot of those things in the mid 90's. Surprisingly, for a mid 90's novella, its still available too, for just $8 or so. I'd probably only recommend it for McCaffrey completists, adults who appreciate YA/juvenile works that have some heart, and parents of young girls and boys who they are trying to get interested in fantasy.
Copyright © 2007, Gregory Tidwell