An Earthly Knight

by Janet McNaughton
253 pages,
ISBN: 0006391885

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Children's Books
by Karen Krossing

How many of us do what we should do, rather than what we want to do? This struggle between duty and desire is the theme of a new book from acclaimed writer Janet McNaughton. After the futuristic novel, The Secret Under My Skin, which earned McNaughton the Ruth Schwartz Award, a Mr. Christie's Book Award and the Nova Scotia Library Association's Ann Connor Brimer Award, she has returned to historical fiction with An Earthly Knight, albeit to a very different historical period than her previous novels set in Toronto in the 1920s and Newfoundland during the Second World World War.
As young noblewomen in medieval Scotland, Lady Jeanette (Jenny) and her older sister, Isabel, belong to a world where obligations take precedence over love. Free-spirited Jenny is forced to assume the responsibilities of eldest daughter when Isabel disgraces the family by running away with a suitor. Isabel eventually returns home in shame, and Jenny worries about her sister's fate as she struggles in her new role. Then Jenny is chosen as a possible bride for the selfish Earl William, brother and heir of the King of Scotland. While on a forbidden forest ramble, she meets gentle Tam Lin, who is rumoured to have been kidnapped by the "wee folk." With no mother to guide her, Jenny tries to win the marriage that will benefit her father's alliances, even though she is drawn to Tam Lin and his dangerous secret.
Well-researched and historically accurate, this novel will have readers comparing the limitations placed on Jenny to the relative freedoms teens have today. For example, readers are taught along with Jenny "that a woman should always bow before a man of her rank or better, even when he means to harm her." This book will also erase any misconceptions derived from the old fairy tales that young noblewomen led enviable lives. Jenny makes her own gowns and blankets, manages her father's estate, and has to maintain proper social etiquette, even when those around her do not.
Although it is a realistic portrait of Jenny in the year 1162, the story also has the rich, lush tones of a lover's ballad as well as the dark magic and jealous tricksters of the original fairy tales. It is no surprise, then, that McNaughton, who has a Ph.D. in folklore, drew her inspiration for this novel from two traditional Scottish ballads. An Earthly Knight is a distinctive blend of earthy realism, in the life of young Jenny, and the supernatural, with miraculous healings and fairies in the forest. Teen readers will root for Jenny and Isabel to marry well and move beyond duty to a fairy-tale realm where love can conquer all.
Karen Krossing is a children's book writer who lives in Toronto.

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