Published by Viking
Author Web site: http://www.deliasherman.com
In Delia Sherman’s Changeling, the traditional coming of age story is told in a magical Manhattan with an almost snarky bent. Playing up on the folk belief that fairies exchange one of their own children for a human one, Sherman shows how the human child lives in the fairy world. The protagonist, Neef, is a very self-aware changeling, knowing her mortal roots, in the Other Side of Manhattan, as she tells the story of her quest. Typically enough, the story begins as Neef bemoans her daily boredom and how her curious mischievous nature gets her into trouble. Neef is atypical for her fairy world, she is mortal.
Neef’s troubles begin when she circumvents her Fairy Godmother and the Sandman and attends the Solstice Dance at Central Park. When Neef’s presence at the Dance is discovered, the protection she’d earlier had from the darker aspects of the enchanted Manhattan is lifted, and she becomes the prize in the Great Hunt. After the Dance and being told of the great Fairy rule Neef broke, she comes across a boogeyman and her human counterpart, whom she names Changeling. Only by bargaining with the guardian of Central Park can Neef reclaim her safety. Much easier said than done, as Neef’s quest entails procuring a few veritably impossible items can she complete the quest.
Sherman’s novel was much more enjoyable than I expected. As the story progressed, Sherman quickly won me over with her surprisingly engaging protagonist, her inventive twists to the fairy world and evenly paced story. Each added layer of fairy she added to Manhattan was continually quirky and inventive. At times, the Neef’s tone as the first person narrator was slightly irritating, but these instances were rare.
As much as the story is about Neef’s quest for redemption and her fantastical encounters, Changeling is also a book about the power of story. Early on, Neef tells the reader how important stories are to the Fairy Folk and this is a theme Sherman carries out throughout the length of the novel.
It might be quaint to compare Changeling to a film as popular and entertaining as Shrek, but there are a lot of parallels. Both stories do a great job of parodying the clichés of fairytales and folk stories while, essentially, telling a story firmly entrenched in those traditions. Sherman’s Fairy Manhattan is resplendent with many of the well known fairy/folk tales, rich enough to be plumbed for future stories. Changeling, while aimed at the young adult market, is an enjoyable story and entertaining enough to win over even adults who think such stories are simply for children.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford