Review: “Summer in Orcus,” T. Kingfisher

Pros: Beautiful, heartfelt alternate-world tale
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher, is about 11-year-old Summer, whose mother is overprotective and needy. One day Baba Yaga’s house struts into town and plops down near Summer’s house. Baba Yaga offers to give Summer her heart’s desire–but Summer has no idea what that is. It’s only once Baba Yaga has thrust Summer into another world with only a talking weasel for company that Summer realizes that any story featuring Baba Yaga is unlikely to end well. It doesn’t take her long to discover that there’s a cancer eating away at the heart of the world, and to realize that she’s no hero to go around saving entire worlds. How can she help on a scale that’s doable; how can she find her way back home; how can she escape the bad guys who immediately realize that something’s changed and there’s someone to be caught?

I absolutely love Summer in Orcus. It has a taste of Narnia, but it’s on a smaller scale. Summer isn’t a queen; she isn’t meant to save entire worlds. She’s lost and tired and scared. Her friends include a wolf (who turns into a house when night falls–he’s a were-house), a dandy of a hoopoe bird who owes people money, and a weasel who’s just as scared as she is. Early on she stumbles into a dying dryad and finds she feels a sense of need to help that dryad, but she has no idea how. The only hint she has as to her path is from a cheese-selling man who cuts a slice of a cheese that predicts the future, and this one says that her path will be marked with turquoise. A turquoise dragonfly, vivid blue eyes of a forester…the color isn’t always there to lead her, but it comes up often enough that she thinks she’s still on the right path.

She still has to avoid the bad guys, however, and the bad guys have no qualms about killing and burning to get what they want. Summer’s very presence puts some of her new friends and their allies in danger, and she has to realize that this doesn’t make it her fault.

Summer in Orcus is a smaller, folktale-sized version of something like Narnia, where young people have to go to another world and put it to rights. This one is cozier and very imaginative, and as an adult I love it.

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