Marabel and the Book of Fate is the first installment of a new middle-grade fantasy series by Nashville writer Tracy Barrett. In the kingdom of Magikos, the monarch makes all important decisions by consulting the Book of Fate. When royal twins Marabel and Marco are born, the Book identifies Marco as the ‘Chosen One,’ next in line for the throne.
Because of the Book’s decree, Princess Marabel has lived her whole life in Marco’s shadow, essentially cast aside by parents who fawn over her brother. On the night of their thirteenth birthday, guests from many different kingdoms join in the celebration of Marco’s coming of age, while Marabel is barely mentioned. But the celebration is cut short when Marco is kidnapped by banished Aunt Mab, who rules a neighboring land called the Desolate Barrens.
A land full of malevolent magic, the Barrens were created thousands of years earlier to keep witches, ogres, and other evils out of Magikos. These magical creatures help Mab kidnap Marco and deliver an ultimatum to the king: give Mab full rule of Magikos within thirteen days, or Marco will be harmed. When the king consults the Book of Fate, he is advised not to send an envoy to rescue Marco and assured that Marco will escape on his own. Realizing that her twin has been abandoned, Marabel takes it upon herself to stage a rescue.
Fortunately, Marabel is not a typical princess. Instead of hanging out with the other princesses, she has been secretly training with a sword. She’s actually very good, despite having parents who frequently observe that “Fencing isn’t ladylike, dear.” But cultural expectations have never stopped Marabel from doing what she wants, and she has no intention of letting the Book of Fate stop her from saving her brother.
The trip to the Barrens is more difficult than she ever expected, however, and not just because of the magical creatures—the dragons, giants, and other magical beings—who live there. As her adventures unfold, Marabel begins to question why such creatures have been banished at all. She meets a human couple whose adopted son is an ogre. “A child’s a child,” his mother tells Marabel. “It had never before occurred to Marabel that there might be another way to look at these things,” Barrett writes.
Clearly Magikos needs to go through some major changes. For that to take place, though, Marabel must first find Marco. Can she save her twin and broker peace between Magikos and the Barrens before the thirteen days are up?
On the surface, Marabel and the Book of Fate is a thrilling adventure story about a sister who wants to save her brother. But the underlying message of the book is what makes Marabel’s story spectacular. Throughout this whimsical, thoroughly contemporary fairy tale, Barrett inspires young readers to consider the importance of social acceptance, free will, and leadership—and the value of examining their own social norms. Against the backdrop of adventure, she empowers readers to challenge oppression and systemic injustice. Marabel and the Book of Fate is a strong opening to an exciting new series.
Zack Barnes is a special-education teacher in Nashville and a Ph.D. candidate in literacy studies at Middle Tennessee State University. He blogs at A to Z Book Reviews.