Large Print Reviews
The Folk Keeper
By Franny Billingsley
The Folk Keeper
Large Print Edition
By Franny Billingsley
Thorndike Press, (2000)
Genre: Children and Young Adult's Fiction, Fantasy
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 29, 2001
Being a Folk Keeper is a serious occupation. The Folk are otherworldly creatures made up mostly of mouths and teeth, and it is the Keepers job is to care for the Folk. The Keeper must constantly feed the Folk's unending hunger, and they must take upon themselves all of the Folk's anger and animosity. When the Keeper fails to keep the Folk happy, the Folk have a tendency to run amok, spoiling the milk, making the crops rot in the field, and generally causing untold misery. For the most part, the Folk inhabit cellars and caves and other dark places. As well, the Keeper must minister to the Folk in their own environment, no matter how loathsome it is.
Corinna Stonewall is better known as Corin to the inmates of the Rhysbridge Foundling Home. No one at the home suspects that Corin, the Home's Folk Keeper, is really a girl. After all, a girl can't be a Folk Keeper - or can she? When Corinna arrived at the Home four years before the story opens, she disguised herself as a boy and passed herself off as a Folk Keeper. She managed to do her job so well that no one ever guessed that she had not been trained for the job or that she was a girl.
When this story opens, Corinna is fifteen. Her position as Folk Keeper has given her a level of power that protects her from the drudgery that would have been her lot as a mere girl. Her life at the Foundling Home is not pleasant, but it is tolerable. But it is a life that she does not have to put up with much longer. As the book opens, a Great Lady has arrived at the home. This lady, Lady Alicia, wants Corinna to become the Folk Keeper for her husband's vast estates on the Isle of Cliffsend. This is a terrific honor, but a job that she is ill qualified to undertake. Most Folk Keepers go through an apprenticeship where they learn all the tricks of the trade. Corinna, however, has learned what little she knows about the Folk on the job. Worse, the Folk of the North are more vicious and dangerous than those she is use to. Nonetheless, Corinna finds herself accepting the position as Folk Keeper of Marblehaugh Park, and the dangers that go along with it.
Franny Billingsley wrote the The Folk Keeper from Corinna's viewpoint. Ostensibly this book is a 'copy' of Corinna's Folk Record, a book in which she wrote diary-like entries, chronicling her activities as a Folk Keeper. Corinna is a compelling character. By writing this story as if it were a diary, Billingsley allows the reader to get an intimate glimpse of Corinna. It also allows the reader to better understand how and why Corinna acts the way she does then would have been possible if she had used a more traditional storytelling method. Throughout, it is clear that Corinna is strong willed and intelligent, and yet there is a sense of vulnerability about her that is very realistic. Corinna also has green eyes and silver hair, and her hair grows two inches every night. In many ways, she has unhuman like powers. For instance, she is never cold and she always knows what time it is.
All her life she has felt out of place and this has isolated her from her peers - an isolation that only deepened when she became a Folk Keeper. This is because those who might have become her friends in other circumstances tend to shy away from her because of the mysticism surrounding her role as Folk Keeper. And the plain truth is that they are scared of the Folk and the power that she has over them. However, one good aspect of being a Folk Keeper is that she must spend countless hours hidden deep within the damp caverns inhabited by the Folk. This isolation, lonely though it must be, helps to protect her secret - that she is not the boy she is pretending to be.
When Corinna moves to Cliffsend her whole life changes, and she is faced with a series of dangerous situations that test her mettle, her wisdom, and her understanding of who she is. The position that she finds herself in forces her to grow up very quickly. In the process, she makes friends, finds love, and learns the truth about her past. This is a wonderful, magical tale populated by mythological creatures such as Hill Hounds, Bogleman, and Sealfolk. Corinna is a character that will enthrall both boys and girls of all ages. The story of her life and how she deals with its tribulations is both captivating and thought provoking. As well, Billingsley's is a splendid writer, her prose has a lyrical quality that paints a wonderfully clear picture of Corinna's world. The plot is tight, and will keep young readers guessing, until the end, just who, or what, Corinna really is.
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