Kathrin Tordasi’s Bramble Fox, translated from German into English by Cathrin Wirtz, will be perfect for those keen readers who veer towards fantasy and myth. Indeed, towards the end the main characters, Portia and Ben further affirm their friendship as they clink mugs, watch the sun rise, and fittingly, given the adventure they have had, quote Lord of the Rings.
The story is one packed with adventure, fog, mythology, doors to other worlds, huntresses, shape shifters and fairies. Portia, who was expecting to be spending the summer with her mother in Andalusia, finds that Trefriw in Eryri, has more than enough to fill her summer days, as she is sent to stay with her aunts, the wittily named couple, Rose and Bramble. The aunts live in the comfortable domesticity surrounded by books, plants, cups of tea and of course a Welsh countryside steeped in history and myths. Ben, a boy born and brought up in Trefriw who lives in his family bookshop, is painfully shy, and worries about his recently widowed mother, but he has always liked Portia’s aunts who he can talk books with and who, he calls (after their house) the Afallon women. With Ben grieving his father, and Portia leaving behind a mother who has mental health problems, the two offer a perfect (platonic) friendship, but while those problems are clearly referred to, the novel’s focus is firmly fixed on the fantastical adventure that soon evolves into a something of a quest.
Things are not entirely as they seem in Trefriw; the fox that keeps appearing is tamer than Portia has ever experienced before, and the bird with the broken wing that Ben takes care of is also not entirely what he first seems to be either. In addition, it appears that Aunt Rose and Aunt Bramble, have something of a history, and after following the fox through a door that Portia has found a key for, Portia, and later Ben, find themselves in worlds full of danger, mythological creatures and amidst a past that needs to be untangled.
One of the things I liked about this, alongside the myth and adventure, was that the characters were complicated; the fox was wily as you might expect, but also had a depth. Ben was tempted, but readers could empathise with his choice. The aunts may have seemed old, but they had a lively past – a telling reminder for child readers who may not stop to think about how their adults might have been in their teens and twenties. The novel will make a sound addition to a school or class library and will appeal to children with a hankering for a Hobbit-like fantasy tale. It is for the dedicated reader as it stands at 350 pages long, but for those who love to get lost in a long fantastical other world(s) then this book will be the one for them.
Goldener Bucherpirat prize 2020
Further Lupe Prize – 2021
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