One evening, when we were having drinks with our friends Julie and Zane, we started talking about good books we’ve read. I always take note of book recommendations, especially when they come from the mouths of old college buddies whose taste I trust. Julie mentioned a few–The Coast of Chicago (a fantastic collection of short stories), Sabriel, and finally Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt. I immediately requested all of the above at my library.
As far as Jackaroo goes, at first I thought the title sounded kinda goofy. Then, when I picked it up from our library’s bookmobile, I thought the cover looked kind of creepy (I couldn’t find an image of that specific cover to share with you guys, but it shows a weirdly masked figure with possibly villainous eyes).
But the actual book is neither goofy nor creepy! A novel for young adults set in something like the Middle Ages in something resembling England, the book centers around the story of the Innkeeper’s daughter, Gwyn, a sensible and hard-working young woman. The innkeeper is the head of the most well-to-do and influential family in their small town, and as his eldest child, Gwyn shoulders a lot of responsibility. With a sickly and lazy younger brother (who is nonetheless destined to inherit the inn), Gwyn struggles with her place in the world. Should she marry? Publicly declare her intent to remain single and celibate? Stay in the service of her younger brother once he takes over the inn? There don’t seem to be any options that promise a fulfilling life for her.
Times are tough for the people–the yearly taxes collected by the Lords are always cause of great distress for those struggling to make ends meet, and as winter descends on the land, bands of thieves start targeting isolated holdings, stealing and killing. Amidst all the uncertainty of life, the people take comfort in legends of Jackaroo, the highwayman cum Robin Hood figure who protects the poor in their time of need. The old stories take on that much more significance as the people are hard pressed by the Lords and their soldiers.
One day, a mysterious nobleman and his son come to stay at the inn, and after a winter storm, Gwyn is snowed into a shelter with the nobleman’s young son. As the two of them are forced to live in close quarters for a stretch of time, they begin to talk and learn about one anothers’ lives, circumstances, and struggles. An unlikely friendship and a certain degree of trust springs up between the two. As Gwyn tries to stay busy by cleaning out an old cupboard, she discovers a mysterious package–a pair of soft leather boots, a cloak, a mask, and a sword. She conceals the package again before the Lordling can see it, not knowing what to make of it. But she is determined to learn more, and as the story progresses, Gwyn makes some shocking discoveries concerning the fabled Jackaroo, and is caught up in the legend herself in unexpected ways. You’ll just have to read it to find out the details!
This is a great book for young readers–it’s clean, well-written, and packed with interesting twists. There’s a little love, a little mystery, and a good amount of adventure. It’s also a great book for . . . well, me. Though I have long ago ceased to be considered a ‘young reader.’ Hope you guys enjoy it too! I just picked up the next book in Voigt’s “Kingdom” series (which this book belongs to). It’s called “On Fortune’s Wheel,” and I can’t wait to dive in during my coffee break later on this afternoon!