In a strange coincidence, this book, like the last book I reviewed here (“Max and the Midknights) both feature girls who struggle to become knights. It is probably the inevitable result of a trend toward both historical fiction and strong female characters. I can’t help wondering how another Maine author, Kate Douglas Wiggin, would view these girls. Her heroine Rebecca (of Sunnybrook Farm fame) merely struggled to mend, cook and write poetry. How times change.

Cover courtesy of Penguin Random House

And vastly for the better. In “The Hunt for Mad Wolf’s Daughter,” set in a beautifully rendered 13th-century Scotland, our heroine is a complicated, headstrong and terrifyingly competent 12-year-old wannabe warrior. Drest is Mad Wolf’s youngest — and only female —child. He and his five sons comprise a ferocious “war band” she longs to join.

The Mad Wolf clan are kind of a medieval Sopranos, alternately protecting and brutalizing neighboring villages, avenging wrongs while upholding a code to honor and protect all maidens. While they train Drest in all the martial arts, she fumes that she is patronized: treated like a “wee lass,” protected rather than allowed to participate.

Though it can be read on its own, “The Hunt” is really part two of Diane Magras’s first novel, “The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.” It picks up where that one left off: Drest having daringly rescued her family and young Lord Faintree from his traitorous uncle Oswyn, usurper of Faintree’s title and castle.

However, as in the entire first book, they are still on the run from Oswyn, a state of things that is the book’s one flaw. All the fleeing, hither and then yon, risks becoming repetitive. And poor Faintree, badly wounded in his first appearance, is forced to spend both books (whose timeline is just two weeks) limping and staggering, using Drest as a crutch, literally.

But Magras, by day the director of development at the Maine Humanities Council, fills the story with interesting characters and keeps the action fast-paced, building to a climax where Drest has her first taste of real battle in heart-stopping, one-on-one combat with Oswyn. (In the time-honored tradition of such fights, she vanquishes him, without having to actually spill his blood.)

The core of the book is Drest and Faintree’s growing friendship and Drest’s struggle to find her place in the family. She loves her doting brothers and fierce father, but does she want to become, like them, a vengeful warrior? Or will she find her own way?

In the end, Drest adopts many traditional female virtues — protecting, rescuing, listening, and offering mercy — while not backing down one bit from her role as sword-wielding warrior. Her code is not to “honor and protect” all women, but to “rely on their strength.” She is a wonderful role model and embodiment of the modern girl. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe — and maybe even Kate Douglas Wiggin — would approve.

Amy MacDonald is a children’s book author and freelance writer. She may be reached at [email protected]

 

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