Sherwood Smith’s Wren Trilogy (Wren to the Rescue, Wren’s Quest, Wren’s War) ought to be really good, but it isn’t, and I can’t put my finger on why, which is annoying. (And no, it’s not just the cold pills, because I started reading these before the cold.) These are YA novels that appear to be comprehensively out of print; I got them out of the library.
Wren is an orphan who dreams of adventure. At the start of the series, she discovers that someone in the orphanage is really a princess in disguise—her best friend, not her. Tess (Princess Teressa) has been hidden in the orphanage because a wicked ruler threatened to kidnap any child of her father’s. Now, her parents think it’s safe to start bringing her out of hiding. They are, of course, wrong. Tess is almost immediately kidnapped, and it’s (you guessed it) Wren to the rescue. Along the way, Wren discovers she has an aptitude for magic. In the second book, Wren goes questing for her family. As an adopted kid, I’m rather sensitive to treatments of this topic, but it’s handled fairly well here. Meanwhile, back at the ranch [*], the court is experiencing an unusual level of tension; not only that, but Wren and Connor, her companion, find themselves pursued by sinister types. In the third book, there is indeed a war, though it’s not only Wren’s.
Wren is a great character, unaffected and full of cheerful pragmatism. She very vaguely reminds me of Lyra in Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, only less feral (bearing in mind that it’s been a while since I read those). Tess isn’t bad either, at least at first; I started disliking her towards the end of the second book, because while all the characters make mistakes, hers towards the end of the second and in the third seemed particularly stupid to me. The other two main characters are Tyron and Connor, who help the rescue in the first book and end up becoming friends with Wren and Tess. (Connor, in the usual fashion of inbred royal families, is also Tess’s half-uncle. The family tree in the front of the books is pretty scary at first glance, but it’s there for a reason.)
So there’s a good lead character, magic, and intrigue; what’s wrong with these? I wish I could say. I think it might have something to do with their incluing. (As in, how they clue a reader in. Jo Walton’s term.) A number of times I found myself saying, “Where did that come from?” Sometimes I’m not the most careful reader, but I’m pretty sure that I would have noticed these things if they’d been mentioned earlier. Parts of the plot aren’t sufficiently in the foreground, perhaps. I can’t quite articulate it, which inability is perhaps making more annoyed with these than I ought to be. Anyway, much as I enjoyed the Exordium series, I can’t really say I recommend these.
[*] There’s a lot of transitions of the form “just as X was doing Y, Z was doing Q elsewhere” in these. Normally, I would never notice this, but thanks to Lemony Snicket, every time I came across one, a voice at the back of my skull said, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . “