Let me start by saying that The Shamer’s Daughter by Lene Kaaberbøl is by far one of the most intriguing and thrilling concepts I’ve ever read in children’s literature. In a fantasy based world, Kaaberbøl tells the story of young Dina, who has a gift that enables her to see a person’s most guilty secrets just by gazing in their eyes. Known as a Shamer, to Dina her powers are considered far from a gift but a curse as her longing for friendship is instead met with fear and hostility. But when Dina’s mother is called to Dunark Castle to uncover the truth about a bloody triple murder, Dina must come to terms with her power, or let her mother fall prey to the vicious and revolting dragons of Dunark.
Yes dragons! And murder, battles, sorcery and some fearless heroines too! I was instantly hooked from the first few chapters, particularly with Kaaberbøl’s seamless and pacy writing style. As a Danish author, Kaaberbøl’s translation was flawless. There was no shying away from the nitty and the gritty that a lot of children’s authors tend to bypass or gloss over, instead, Kaaberbøl confidently writes about characters who pee, bleed and puke.
Dina is an incredibly well written character; she’s brave, smart and honest but what I loved most about her was her strong sense of rootedness. In a lot of children’s books with a forefront female heroine there tends to be a journey of transformation and self-discovery but with Dina I felt as if her identity was already very much established. She doesn’t deny the fact or try to mask when she’s afraid or hurt or angry, rather her responses and reactions felt very genuine and relatable. For example, there was one particular memorable scene when Dina is faced by a vicious dragon and in her moment of fear she wets herself. For an advanced middle grade fantasy, this element of unflinching honesty and humanity is extremely refreshing and makes the book that little more visually assertive.
Bursting with passion and suspense, The Shamer’s Daughter is a uniquely crafted story rooted in fantasy, friendship and power, and one that I have no doubt will become a timeless children's classic. There are four books in the gripping Shamer’s Chronicles and I already cannot wait to get stuck into the next book, The Shamer’s Signet, published by Pushkin Press.
Also, can I just stress how gorgeous this cover by Helen Crawford-White is! I could literally look at it all day.
PS. a note for parents that this book does contain a few rude and offensive words so please bear this in mind.
Book one, The Shamer's Daughter is available from Amazon here.