Kandide is a beautiful fairy princess who also happens to be very selfish and vain. When her father, King Toeyad, passes away, Kandide is next in line to become the queen of the Fae, but a tragic accident just days before her crowning leaves Kandide with an irreversible injury to her wing. This blemish makes her an Imperfect, one of the Fae who have physical defects, and as such, she is now considered an outcast by Fae society. Although Kandide's father had worked hard to persuade the Fae High Council to give Imperfects equal rights, he was never quite successful in bringing about the change he sought. When Kandide's people discover her disability, her life is in danger, so her mother sends her away to the Veil of the Mists where other Fae like Kandide now live in safety and harmony. Because of her conceit, Kandide has difficulty accepting that she is like the other Imperfects behind the Veil. Although Kandide may be vain, she alone carries the gift of the frost and with it the ability to change the seasons so that all life may be sustained. The only other person who may be able to bring the frost is Kandide's mother, Tiyana, but to do so would likely kill her. Nevertheless, the evil Lady Aron is fully prepared to force Tiyana's hand if Kandide doesn't return to deploy the gift or transfer it to someone else, for the jealous Lady wishes nothing more than to become Queen herself. Kandide's brother and sister set out on a dangerous quest to find her, but will they be able to locate Kandide and convince her to return home before Lady Aron attains the throne through her despicable plan? And will Kandide ever be able to accept her own imperfection as well as that of the other Fae of the Mists who have treated her with so much kindness?
Kandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first full-length novel about fairies that I've read, and overall, it was a generally pleasant experience. The main focus of the book is a lovely theme about beauty being more than skin deep. While I agreed wholeheartedly with the message it conveyed, I thought that the author was perhaps a bit heavy-handed and over-simplistic in its delivery. Granted the story is aimed at tweens and younger teens, but I think that kids can be perceptive enough to "get it" without everything being spelled out in black and white. The story itself was quite nice, but mostly predictable, with no real surprises. I must say though that the artwork of Maxine Gadd is absolutely extraordinary, and I found myself going back to look at her beautiful illustrations many times.
The main protagonist of the book, Kandide, was a very difficult character for me to like, therefore it was rather hard to fully immerse myself in what was essentially her story. She begins the novel extremely selfish and vain, never thinking of anyone but herself and completely obsessed with her own beauty. When a tragic accident nearly robs Kandide of her life and leaves her with a broken wing that is damaged beyond repair, she has a pretty characteristic self-pitying response. Since Imperfects, fairies who have a physical disability or abnormality, are not accepted by Fae society as a whole, Kandide's mother sends her away to a place where she can be safe with others like her. Once again, her reaction is one of prejudice and denial that she is anything like the other Imperfects she finds there. Of course, Kandide eventually comes around, but her newfound favorable opinion of the Imperfects was rendered a little to quickly without a lot of forethought or explanation. Even after setting aside her bias, she still on occasion acted egotistically. I was pretty disappointed that Kandide basically blackmailed the Council to bend them to her will instead of using diplomacy, but I guess, in all fairness, her father, one of the most well-respected Fae kings ever, had previously tried to be diplomatic without success. Overall, Kandide was an OK character who had moments of decency, and in the end, I suppose that having her remain true to her innate personality was probably more realistic than having her do a complete 180 degree turn-around, even though I might have wished it.
What I enjoyed most about the story besides the message, were the secondary characters. Except for the evil Lady Aron, they were all nice and helped to offset Kandide's more annoying nature. Her sister Tara is very kind to everyone and loves animals, and her brother Teren is full of humor and mischief. I liked that her parents King Toeyad and Queen Tiyana shared a great love throughout many years of marriage, and they were both a driving force in Kandide's life even after Toeyad passed. I was particularly taken with the Imperfects that Kandide met behind the Veil, especially Selena, Leanne, and Jake. Although Kandide and Jake's romance was pretty much an afterthought with no real substance to it beyond a few innocent looks and touches and a mere admission that they were falling in love, I did end up liking Jake quite a bit. He is the one who really awakened Kandide to the reality of being an Imperfect, and never allowed her to walk all over him with her haughty attitude. Instead he threw out a few snappy comebacks and sarcastic, "Your Majesty" comments to counter her demands. The only real complaint I have about the cast of characters in general is that they could have used a little more depth and dimension. As written each one seemed to have a prescribed role from which they never really deviated. They simply didn't seem to grow or spread their wings and fly (no pun intended) beyond the boundaries of their individual characterizations, and as a consequence, the denouement of the plot was a bit too simplistic for my taste.
Kandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first book in a planned trilogy titled The Calabiyau Chronicles with the next two books being Kandide and the Lady's Revenge and Kandide and the Flame is Fleeting. Although the core story of this book was resolved, there was a bit of a cliff-hanger ending, and I'm not sure when the next book will be published. The scanty information I can find seems to indicate that the second book was due to be released in late 2008 or early 2009, but it still does not appear to be available yet. In spite of some shortcomings, I enjoyed Kandide and the Secret of the Mists enough to read the rest of the trilogy whenever it is released, but the most positive thing about my reading experience is that it has sparked my interest in the myths of the Fae and has encouraged me to seek out other stories about them which I look forward to reading in the future.
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