I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (book review).

This is the story of Coriander Hobie, born into a happy childhood in the 1650s in London. Unfortunately, her mother is a maker of herbal remedies and this is frowned upon during this period in time as it coincides with the rise to power of Oliver Cromwell and his puritan ideas. Unluckily for Coriander, her mother dies and her father has to escape death at the hands of Cromwell’s soldiers leaving Coriander in the hands of a wicked stepmother and a seriously scary Puritan preacher.


Now you’re probably wondering why ‘I, Coriander’ is being reviewed on a SF/fantasy book reviewing website as this appears to be a historical novel? Well, we soon learn that Coriander’s mother and also Coriander herself are actually from the fairy kingdom which exists alongside our own world. Coriander manages to escape her stepmother and the preacher while, trapped in a chest, by slipping through into the land of fairy where she meets a fairy prince and princess and a traditional evil stepmother. Coriander is given a task to complete in order to save the prince from death which she has to complete in the human world. However, time runs differently in both worlds with a few days in fairy being a few years in the human world which adds an interesting spin on Coriander’s task.

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I was hoping to, but I’m not entirely sure why that is. The characters were well-drawn and interesting, although I did find Coriander to be a little annoying at times. I also got a bit confused by the time lapse between London and the fairy world. Coriander only spent a couple of days in fairy but when she was back in London, a good few years had passed, as has been previously explained. Now I understand this as a concept with regards traditional fairy stories, but it wasn’t made entirely clear in this book and then certain elements at the end to do with romance felt a little uncomfortable as I wasn’t sure how old Coriander was meant to be.

The story also was interesting but it didn’t contain as much of the magical element I wanted. I did enjoy some of the scenes in fairy, but a lot of things weren’t very well explained. The main focus of this part of the story, being Coriander having to retrieve a fairy shadow, was not clear to me. I wanted to know a little more about the shadow, maybe some scenes from the past from her mother’s point of view would have helped. It just seemed that this was sprung on the reader as though it was a little story that the author had come up with and no other use for so they stuck it into this book.

I did enjoy all the historical elements when the author was talking about Cromwellian England, in fact I could have done with more of this part of the story. However, I understand that this book is written for a younger audience than myself and they might not find the history to be interesting. On that point, I’m not 100% sure that the age group this was written for would actually enjoy this book as much as say an adult would. It felt a little slow maybe and the plot wasn’t as strong as in other books for this age group that I’ve read.

Overall, ‘I, Coriander’ wasn’t a bad book, it just didn’t live up to the hype for me. Maybe the focus of the book was a little too broad with good elements but it could have done with a little more tidying up. At times, I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of the story was as there were so many little short stories all stuck together. Such as the romance story of Coriander, the search for the shadow, the historical bits to do with hiding from the Puritans and there were interesting stories with the side characters as well. It just needed more focus on one aspect rather than trying to include everything.

Sarah Bruch

August 2015

follow me: @shelbycat

(pub: Orion Children’s Books. 320 paperback. Price: £ 5.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84255-504-0)

check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk/

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