Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Villainy and a Cat

It's about time for me to feature another Young Adult novel on the blog, so today's post will focus on Catherine Gilbert Murdock's recent release, Wisdom's Kiss.  As the covers declares, this book is a "Thrilling and Romantic Adventure Incorporating Magic, Villainy, and a Cat." The book fulfills that promise and more and is eminently suitable for its target teen audience, perhaps most especially girls.  Although, we all know that the black cat on the cover is what really attracted me to the book.

The Basics
Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Wisdom's Kiss. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. Print.

Murdock was born in South Carolina and grew up on a Christmas tree farm (Christmas is my favorite holiday, so I think that's pretty awesome).  She is the author of several young adult books, including the acclaimed Dairy Queen series.  She is also the sister of Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame.  Wisdom's Kiss is a sequel of sorts to Murdock's novel, Princess Ben. However, it's definitely a stand-alone story, set in Ben's world, but not really picking up any of the same story line. (I have not, yet, read Princess Ben, and I was just fine).  The story follows several characters, including the prescient tavern maid, Trudy; the miller's son turned "soldier," Tips; and the adventure-seeking, not-wise-at-all Princess Wisdom.  Wisdom hastily agrees to marry the Duke of Farina on the promise of adventure, only to realize too late that she is about to enter into a family of immoral schemers.  The novel is full of adventure and suspense with just a dash of romance and magic to help things along.

The Book
There are so many things to love about Wisdom's Kiss that it's hard to know where to start. (Seriously, I've been dreading having to write this post). But, perhaps the most striking feature of the novel is the variety of forms that Murdock uses to tell her story: epistolary (letters), diary entries, a play, encyclopedia entries, and first and third person narratives.  Knowing this before I went in, I was a little wary and worried that the book would seem disjointed, but I discovered that just the opposite was true.  Each form Murdock uses tells the story of Wisdom's Kiss (here I refer to the event rather than the novel) from the perspective of a different character, giving readers a fuller picture of the story than they would find by following only a few perspectives. (It also thrills my inner literary nerd to see all the different forms).

I also liked how Murdock managed to connect all the threads of her various characters into one cohesive story line. With characters from such disparate worlds as Trudy the village tavern maid and Princess Wisdom the spoiled thrill seeker, it was important for Murdock to convincingly pull all the characters together, which she does.  She does this in large part through the various mysteries swirling around the novel.  The mystery of the nature of Tips's true profession ultimately pulls Trudy (though she has no idea there's a mystery until it's solved) along in the story line, leading her to link up with Wisdom and the Queen Mother.  Then we have the mystery surrounding Wisdom's fiance's mother and her machinations, which drive the overarching plot of the book.  A clever reader can follow along and even anticipate the goings-on that so puzzle the characters, but Murdock still manages to slip in some twists that you won't see coming. (At least one even had me exclaiming aloud). 

In all this plotting and storytelling, we also find some really great characters.  Murdock develops these characters with ease through her use of literary forms.  Each one has a particular form in which his or her story is told. Trudy gets a 3rd person narrative memoir; Wisdom, a diary; the Queen Mother, letters to her granddaughter Queen Temperance ; Tips, letters to Trudy; Felis, pompous 1st person narrative accounts of the past; and more.  And if any character need fleshing out beyond first hand accounts, we get entries in the Encyclopedia of Lax.  The book largely focuses on movement through the plot as each character is inexorably drawn to the conclusion, but in telling the story through each character's perspective and voice, Murdock simultaneously creates a real sense of character that seems so much more effortless than other novel's lengthy character descriptions.  I get the feeling that each reader will form their own attachments and have their own favorite characters, since each of Murdock's creations are equally engaging. (Personally, I liked the Queen Mother).

Lastly, you'll love the book's light and witty sense of humor that permeates almost every page. For one thing, Murdock selects some truly hilarious names for things, such as the Empire of Lax, the Siege of Cheese, or the Magnanimous Goat Incident (which, really, I'd like to know more about).  Princess Wisdom is also a great source of humor.  She's constantly and irreverently poking fun at things, creating an interesting combination of insensitive and hilarious.  For example, she ridicules her own country's naming traditions after learning that Trudy's mother's name was Mindwell: "Which is extremely ugly & extremely virtuous & only someone from Montagne would ever inflict something that awful on a poor defenseless little baby girl!" (239-40). My favorite moment, though, comes after Wisdom's entire retinue grows violently ill after eating some bad oysters and Wisdom deems the subsequent trip to Trudy's village the "Puking Path" (47).

I loved every minute of Wisdom's Kiss and think it would make an excellent stocking stuffer for the teenage girl in your life (or am I the only weirdo who thinks books are great stocking stuffers?). I know I would have adored this book as a teen. I mean, come on, it features a black cat named Escoffier for crying out loud!



  1. Did you catch my hint at the end there? Cause it was definitely directed at you guys.


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