Title: Esme’s Gift
Author: Elizabeth Foster
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Published: 30th November 2019
Synopsis: Terror was within. Terror was without.
Like her mother, she was at the water’s mercy.
In the enchanted world of Aeolia, fifteen-year-old Esme Silver faces her hardest task yet. She must master her unruly Gift—the power to observe the past—and uncover the secrets she needs to save her mother, Ariane.
In between attending school in the beguiling canal city of Esperance, Esme and her friends—old and new—travel far and wide across Aeolia, gathering the ingredients for a potent magical elixir.
Their journey takes them to volcanic isles, sunken ruins and snowy eyries, spectacular places fraught with danger, where they must face their deepest fears and find hope in the darkest of places.
Esme’s Gift, the second instalment in the Esme trilogy, is a gripping fantasy adventure for readers 12 years and over.
The Esme trilogy was one of the early series and books that got me into blogging seriously – others include The Medoran Chronicles and The Tides Between. In the first book, Esme’s Wish, Esme Silver runs away to find her mother – who has been missing for about seven or eight years after her father gets remarried to Penelope – someone that Esme instinctively knows is only going to cause harm. The second book picks up shortly after the events of the first book, where Esme arrives home to find Picton Island in chaos – everyone has been searching for her for weeks, and nobody will believe her about where she has been, Ariane or what has happened. In an attempt to make her father see sense, Esme gathers evidence, leaves it somewhere secret for him to find and heads off back to Esperance – where she enrols in school in the canal city, and whilst here, she must learn to control her gift as well as travelling across Aeolia to find ingredients for a magical elixir that will hopefully help her mother.
Together with Daniel and Lillian, Esme uses portals to explore volcanic isles, sunken ruins and all kinds of dangerous places. Combined with the portal and journey aspects are hints at an ancient Greek-style mythology and history behind Aeolia, and even though it was not always spoken about, it felt like it was always there – the gods and goddesses, the traditions, the history, the battles and the names of places and heroes from Ancient Greece. At the very least, the names and places spoken about are inspired by these myths and histories, and in a way, are an imaginative and unique retelling in what I feel is a setting that could be anywhere between Australia and the Greek Isles. The strength of this book and its relationships are through the friendships that Esme makes – especially her friendship with Lillian and Daniel, and the way Lillian’s mother cares for all three of them. It is really wonderful to read an upper middle grade to younger YA book where the focus is friendship – we definitely need more of these stories for teenagers to show that romantic relationships – whatever shape they take – are not the only ones worth depicting in literature.
The Gifts that Esme and her friends have echo ancient Greek traditions as well – Esme, who has visions – has echoes of Seers like Cassandra. Lillian’s gift of song-spells refers – for me – to oral traditions of antiquity and gods like Orpheus, the Muses, Apollo, Zeus and Hermes. These hints towards Greek mythology are imbued through the book and give it a feeling of a mythological retelling which is something I love – mythological and fairy tale retellings are fun, interesting and enjoyable when done right – and to my mind, this one is done spectacularly.
This setting evokes so much magic and wonder – it feels like a real world in so many ways, and at the same time, just oozes with an impossibility of existence that it is the stuff of dreams and wonder. I adore this about this series – the fact that it feels like a dream yet also feels so real at the same time, and I love that Elizabeth remembered me from reviewing the first one three years ago. It was such a great privilege to read it then and is even more so now, knowing that this is going to head in a very unique and interesting direction in the third book.
This is a trilogy to watch – and one that anyone aged twelve and over will enjoy. I loved heading back to Esperance – it is a place that is comforting and adventurous with the right amount of danger thrown in when needed. It is done so wonderfully – the tension is perfect for the story and age group, and it is a world where so many mysterious and wonderful things happen, I cannot wait to see how this trilogy wraps up in the third book. Again, this is a wonderful series that Elizabeth is writing, and I hope everyone who is following it enjoys this offering.