“Her friends shot her sympathetic glances, but none of them dared leave their husbands’ or fathers’ sides to be with her.
Smallfolk tradition prevented the girls from going off without permission, even such a small distance. It was only common sense, Tildi had been lectured all the time while growing up. Girls weren’t as strong or as fast as boys. Plenty of dangerous creatures lurked about the Quarters waiting from such a tender young morsel to happen by unprotected – and not all of them were wild animals. That was the rationale her mother had given her for why the custom continued even in cultivated places where there was no reasonable threat. The explanation did not satisfy her, but such matters could only be discussed in private among her companions where the boys couldn’t hear them. Disobedient girls would be made to stand up in meetings with a slate around their necks that read SHAME.”
Even today it can be difficult to find female main characters who stand alone. Or rather female characters who do not need romantic involvement or hero-worship of a male character to keep the story going. Tildi Summerbee in An Unexpected Apprentice manages to be such a character. Perhaps that is not such a surprise considering the society she comes from. In tearing herself loose from the Smallfolk Quarters and setting out on her own, Tildi has to redefine and question the values she has grown up with. Having been orphaned from her entire family is probably a major factor in her seeking her own future independent of the voices of her elders. Sometimes it is when we seemingly have no choices, we find that it is only just now that we have real choices.
I like Tildi. She goes from questioning her right to do anything to being someone who has learned to do without all the things she had previously thought important.
The wizard Nemeth is the reason Tildi and her merry band of 6 set off on their quest to recover “The Book” (really a scroll). My diagnosis is that Nemeth has gone insane from his contact with The Book and from his lust for revenge. I understand his need. Who hasn’t at some point or another wished for the ability to pay back some perceived wrong (whether real or imaginary). Revenge coupled with power over the fabric of the world turns out dire in its effects.
Thankfully Tildi’s merry band is a little more experienced than she. We have the wizards Edynn and her daughter Serafina. Both are accomplished at their craft even though Edynn has centuries more experience than Serafina. The princess Rin is the representative from the centaurs (half horse/half human). She is highly competitive, fun and strong. Tildi ends up having to catch a ride with Rin because of her complete lack of experience in riding any kind of animal. Lakanta is a peddler and a seemingly odd choice for the merry band, but as the story progresses we see that she too represents a group of people that aren’t quite human. Finally we have the Captain Teryn and her soldier Morag. Morag has been magically transformed into a mix of human and something else. For natural reasons he tends to panic when faced with too much magic. The Captain is highly protective of Morag.
There are two more characters that I really enjoyed in An Unexpected Apprentice. One of them is Silvertree. Silvertree is supposed to be the home of the wizard Olen. It is that. But Silvertree is also a person in its own rights. If visitors offend it, Silvertree makes life a whole lot more difficult for them – the way it did with Rin’s brother when he was rude to it. Tildi, on the other, hand gets VIP treatment from Silvertree. I like a tree with a personality.
Magpie is another great character. He lets the world think of him as nothing more than a troubadour with his mind aflutter with silliness. In fact there is a bit more depth to him and he just happens to be the third son of King Solindur of Orontae.
Nemeth isn’t really “the bad guy”. He is just crazy. If I was going to pick a “bad guy”, I would have to choose the Scholardom. Scholardom is such an innocent sounding word. Well-intentioned people can be incredibly dangerous. Getting their hands on The Book is something that must be avoided for these are the people who want to correct all the aberrations of the world. That would mean that any mix of human and other should be changed into human. They find it unfathomable that anyone would actually choose to remain as they are.
I think An Unexpected Apprentice would fit the age range of anyone able to read the Hobbit or Harry Potter. An Unexpected Apprentice is full of humour, of action, warmth, and drama.