Review: The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee

“Outside, the forest looked suspiciously adorable.
Cute little brownish squirrels were playing through the trees, and the birds sang and sang. But I thought: Claidi, you know this doesn’t mean much. Around the next artistic bush may lurk some hulking THING. This is what my utterly silly life has taught me so far.”
Wolf Queen, Book 3 of The Claidi Journals

With so much talk about the need for really truly strong heroines in young adult fiction, I can’t believe I’ve never heard anyone mention these books. I came across a volume of the first three books in the series at a discount book store a few years back and picked it up on a whim (and because it was cheap). It was love at first read.

First, the basics: The Claidi Journals consist of four books, Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing. (I’ve read the first three a couple of times and just uncovered the fourth, so it’s in the TBR pile.) Claidi is a slave/maid to a spoiled princess in an isolated “House” surrounded by wasteland. Her life is miserable until a stranger appears and is captured and one of the old princesses of the house chooses her to help the strange prisoner escape and get home. This, of course, is the beginning of her many adventures, a sheltered girl in a foreign world.

It’s a very standard premise, but nothing else about these books is standard. The world she encounters is funny and weird and her adventures are unexpected, almost jarringly so at times. Tanith Lee (who is a prolific and accomplished writer) blends science fiction and fantasy seamlessly and has an imagination that verges on the bizarre. It’s weird, but weird in a quirky and super-clean way. I just read the series again to make sure my memory was accurate. Yes. True love, of course, but nothing remotely sexual. Nothing dramatically violent (just a few punches and such). Nothing inappropriate at all. I am itching to pass this book on to my almost 10-year-old. She will love it.

She will love it because, Claidi. As fun and interesting as the world is (full of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy element: a variety of interesting cultures and culture clashes), the star of the show is Claidi. From the first page, you just love her. She is rebellious but good-hearted. She is sarcastic and original and unintentionally funny. She is strong-minded though naive. She is incredibly brave but not stupidly so. She is a delight in every way. And she is REAL. She doubts herself and criticizes herself and is weak at times and makes mistakes and doesn’t understand what is going on around her and has fluctuating emotions and is just trying to figure it all out. She reminds me of my daughter. She reminds me of me (so now you know I think I’m a delight). These are her journals, so it’s all in first-person, in one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read. Tanith Lee is a person I wish I could have a conversation with. Anyone who can invent a character like this is my kind of person.

I don’t do rankings and I can’t put numbers to things, so no 5-star system here. This just gets an “I super recommend it!” I’m handing it off to my daughter. That’s the highest compliment I can give something. Check it out, for your own kid, or really for yourself. It’s a fun read.

I’m off to research more books by Tanith Lee. I’ve heard there are a ton, and I can’t wait to find them.

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