For her first nine years, Coriander Hobie lived a charmed life: daughter of a wealthy merchant father and an herbalist mother, known for her medicinal potions. There are a few oddnesses to her life—the fairy stories her parents tell, the efficacy of her mother’s potions, a mysterious pair of silver shoes—but Coriander’s hardly notices until her life begins to unravel. Then, of course, she begins to realize both the dangers of this world and the existence of another.
Set against the backdrop of Oliver Cromwell‘s Puritan rule of London, I, Coriander is in many ways as charming as Coriander’s life. The writing is smooth and fits the story, and everything Coriander experiences in London is vividly described. Experiences and characters in the fairy world are disappointing poorly developed, particularly in comparison to the London scenes.
I also, once I stopped to think about it, was unexpectedly disturbed by such a smooth, gentle book.
If you’re very spoiler-averse, you can stop reading here. I don’t think you need to, though; the fairy tale nature gives the story a sense of inevitability, so I don’t think anything I’m about to tell you will spoil the story. Whether or not it will ruin the book is a different matter entirely.
Time moves differently in fairy as in our world, of course. Coriander’s time there is measured in hours or, at most, days; while those hours or days elapse, she misses months and years in ours, though when she returns her body has aged appropriately. So we have a girl who only has memories and experiences taking her through the age of twelve in a fifteen-year-old’s body, and then a six-months-older-than-that girl in a seventeen-year-old’s body. As far as the book is concerned, this causes absolutely no issues: no freakouts about going from an early-pubescent body to a post-pubescent body, no freakouts about sudden menstruation, and no acting like she’s still twelve. We’re to believe that she is the age she appears and ready for a mature (if terribly developed, narrative-wise) romantic relationship. I’ll grant you that she can have the hormones and brain development of an older girl/young woman—magic, after all— but I can’t completely discount the role experience plays in the process of growing up.
Coriander’s written in a very ageless style—she’s the same at six as she is at twelve, or at the end of the book—but even then, I can’t believe that she’s an adult, even a young one. She’s a twelve- or thirteen-year-old who happens to look like an adult. And when romance gets involved, that gets even creepier.