Annotation: A spell of protection is fading, and an evil empire waits in the shadows to destroy the peaceful Valley Tilja and her family have lived in for generations. Tilja and a boy named Tahl, along with their cranky aged grandparents, and an incredibly ornery horse venture into the Forest to find the answers in a magician they have to search for, in a place they have never gone. It would help if Tilja had magic like her mother, but she doesn’t…at least that’s what everyone thinks.
Justification for Nomination: Peter Dickinson is a master at creating other worlds, and The Ropemaker is no exception. The story of Tilja and her family begins on a cold snowy morning when her mother, “Ma,” does not return from a ritual of singing to the cedars in the Forest – an enchanted place. For so long, Tilja’s home, the idyllic “Valley” has lived in apparent peace, sheltered from an evil world by a spell given by an enchantress, who unfortunately, is now dead. Tilja, along with a boy named Tahl, and their two grandparents, Meena and Alnor, a very unlikely foursome, go on a quest to save their home. Magic is everywhere, except it seems in Tilja, who appears to possess no magical abilities whatsoever, unlike the other women in her family…even her younger sister, Anja, much to her chagrin, has magic. Magic just seems to, poof !-- vanish with Tilja’s touch. But, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all?
Seeking a powerful magician who apparently holds the answer to their dilemma, but for whom they have no name, in land they have never ventured before, is just one of the many twists and turns within this story. It is a true quest story, with impasses and difficulties facing an unlikely cast of heroes. True to all successful quest stories, the protagonist, Tilja, seems faced with all kinds of troubles – from caring for their elderly cohorts to an often rebellious horse in a world she has never seen. But more than that, Tilja needs to find out who she is…and what she is capable of. Through the story, we watch as Tilja grows and matures in stature and in understanding of her true abilities. This story is firmly rooted in the essential YA requirement – the” coming of age, who am I quest.”
The Ropemaker is well-written and visually descriptive. Dickinson’s ability to create visual imagery is amazingly detailed and well-executed. This work is firmly grounded in setting and world-building, reminiscent of Old Norse tales or the works of Hans Christian Andersen. For those readers who love to connect to a different world, The Ropemaker will bring them there…but it is a long one. Like many fantasy novels, this story is lengthy in order to successfully build the world Tilja lives in, but it is not overly done or tiresome to read (and is much shorter than let’s say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
As far as award-winning material, this story tops the fantasy genre - it contains all the necessary literary qualities that make a fantasy novel successful for a YA reader. It addresses teen issues of self-exploration and discovery. Tilja connects to teen issues like being different or unique from peers or family members, attempting to live up to expectations amidst many obstacles and feelings of inadequacy…yet ultimately discovering oneself and others, and finding success in the quest. There are many fantasy books available to read…the flooding of the bookshelves with this genre has made gems like this one (which is now “older”) a little less prominent. This is a book, however, that I would encourage a young reader to pick up if they would like to visit a world other than their own.