A few years ago, Taylorville native Frederic S. Durbin's short story "The Star Shard" was serialized in Cricket magazine. Thousands of middle graders (and I) eagerly awaited each new installment of his lyrical fantasy tale. We were not disappointed.
Durbin held us spellbound.
Now his expanded tale, published by Houghton Mifflin, delights readers anew.
Twelve-year-old Cymbril is a slave on a gigantic, land-roving merchant vessel — the Rake. The vessel is a maze of hidden passages, stairwells and lofts, cages and gardens, kitchens and dungeons. Its population is a jumble of merchants, servants, slaves, animals and magical beings.
Run by the thundering-voiced master Rombol, the Rake is the only home Cymbril has ever known. All she has left of her parents is a stone shard, which can light her way in the dark, and a jeweled hairpin of her mother's.
While the Rake travels, rowed by the huge but gentle Strongarm Urrts, Cymbril does menial labor: mopping floors, carrying packages. But when the Rake stops and the merchants set up their stalls, Cymbril sings lilting ballads for the crowds of customers. She is the unwilling center ring attraction. It seems that her life will go on this way forever.
Until one day, Master Rombol purchases a fey boy, Loric, from a Wildhair warrior. Loric is worth more than his weight in gold to Rombol. For Loric can see in the dark. He can guide the Rake so it can travel by night — thus doubling its earning potential.
Like Cymbril, Loric is a slave. And like all slaves, Cymbril and Loric hunger for their freedom. How will they attain it?
Durbin's fantasy world is woven in tantalizing detail. His characters are multi-dimensional and original. He leads us through his world with equal measures of heart-stopping adventure and awakened awareness.
"The Star Shard" is a must read for fantasy fans of any age.
Ruth Siburt is the author of more than a dozen children's books in the educational field.