Title: The Magic Christmas
Tagline: Jessica and Elizabeth discover the greatest gift of all…
Summary: Christmas gifts they’ll never forget…
When Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s grandparents give them a pair of matching antique dolls for Christmas, they are a little surprised. Their grandparents should know they are too old to play with dolls! Then the twins learn that the dolls are a family legacy from a past generation of twins. But that’s not all that’s special about the dolls. Before they know it, Jessica and Elizabeth are thrown into the most magical adventure of their lives. And along the way they learn what being twins – and best friends – really means.
This is the John Cena of Sweet Valley. One half of the audience is chanting “Let’s go, Cena!” while the other half is chanting, “Cena sucks!” On my first read, I was firmly in the “Cena sucks!” part of the arena, cheerfully holding my “Even the marines hate Cena!” sign aloft. On the second read, I found myself, not by choice, on the other side, revelling in each of his five moves of doom with gleeful delight.
(Apologies to the non-wrestling fans for that analogy. But I’m sure you got the gist.)
The first time I read it, I’m not sure what my expectations were – maybe another haunting, past life regression, or possibly time travel – and I was angrily disappointed that I had bought a book that lied to me. Also, it’s Christmas. Do not fuck with my dreamy expectations of Christmas. Wing may remember a year when I had ranted so extensively about my broken fairy (twinkle) lights, that I featured in the background of two fanfics arguing with the lights, and bat (of Nostalgic Bookshelf) made me twinkling LJ icons, and, more recently, @buffywatcher23 sends me frequent Christmas gifs and links. I very much love the idea of Christmas, especially in twee fiction. I’m actually trying to work out how I can legally pay for the Hallmark channel via a US proxy and VPN because I love their scenery porn so much.
And despite the cover, this is not a Christmas book. Apologies for the spoilers, but that cover is lying to you. And if you can just let that go, you might move over to my side of the arena, holding your “I ♥ Cena” sign next to mine.
[Wing: Damn it. *preps a sign* Also, I keep reading this as manga edition, which would be something different, but probably also fun.]
We open with Elizabeth lovingly staring at a picture of her and Jessica in a photo album. She’s going to put the picture in a frame to go with the story she wrote for Jessica about their seventh birthday (… wasn’t that a Sweet Valley Kids book?). She wants to give Jessica something really meaningful for Christmas, something she’ll treasure forever, not like a (great-looking) sweater or jewellery.
Uh, Elizabeth, I really can’t see this going well. Jessica isn’t really big with the reading unless it’s an article on makeup or whichever pop star/actor she fancies that moment.
Amy is with her and thinks Jessica will be really touched by the gesture. Amy, as we have previously established, is not very bright. She points out a picture after the party, where they’re all covered in icing because Elizabeth started a food fight. Elizabeth claims it wasn’t her, but Amy remembers, and says there’s little Jessica in all of us. Elizabeth says “Very little in me” and truer words were never spoken. [Raven: Steven wishes there was a little of him in Jessica.]
Amy wishes she could read Elizabeth’s story, but she knows that Elizabeth wants Jessica to be the first to read it. Amy says she wishes she had a twin, which I take to mean, “I wish I could kill Jessica and be your twin. I’d even wear her skin. Just to be close to you.” All with a dead-eyed unblinking stare.
Through the bathroom, over in Jessica’s room, she is crowing that this is going to be the best Christmas ever (well, it’s stacked up against: a choir competition in Washington; a night full of ghosts showing her the past, present and future; Elizabeth nearly being killed a carnival ghost; and a trip to Hawaii – and that’s just this year) because she has the perfect gift for Elizabeth this year. [Wing: CONTINUITY WHAT CONTINUITY TIME MOVING FORWARD WHAT TIME MOVING FORWARD]
Four tickets. When Ellen sees they’re bus tickets, she, Lila and Mandy joke that Jessica is sending her whole family away for Christmas to have a house party. Actually, they’re two bus tickets to LA and two tickets for the “Save the Whales” concert, which will feature Johnny Buck, Melody Power, Darcy Campman and Donny Diamond. I guess Coco couldn’t make it. Apparently, Jessica has been saving and planning for ages. The rest of the room is as shocked as I am.
Jessica also bought her a small pin in the shape of a rose, which reminded Elizabeth of the old carved wooden rose (that Jessica accidentally sold at a garage sale) that belonged to their great-great-great grandmother, which is a nice touch of continuity.
So, both twins are very proud of their presents for each other. I think we’re all suitably clenched, waiting for the inevitable reactions, aren’t we?
On Christmas Eve, the twins forego the trip to the airport to pick up the Robertson grandparents so they can exchange gifts. Alice thinks it’s sweet that they’re going to make such a big deal out of it. Steven thinks it’s ridiculous, since last year Jessica bought Elizabeth some purple clothes, and Elizabeth bought Jessica a book she was dying to read.
I would argue that Jessica wasn’t in the Unicorns last Christmas, since she joined at the beginning of the school year, which should be three months ago. But since we’ve had four Christmases already (with at least two more on the horizon), I’m not going to argue. Maybe he means the most recent Christmas of this year, which would be the Hawaii trip.
The twins squash him by saying they stuck with this train of thought and bought him a curling iron. But not to worry, maybe the grandparents will buy him that basketball that he wants. Alice then says that the grandparents have got the twins some very special presents this year. Jessica immediately wants to know what, and Steven wants to know what he gets, which causes Alice to snap that there’s more to Christmas than presents. We know, Alice, we’ve read the other Christmas books where they have to learn that. [Raven: A basketball is such a lazy gift for the boy who plays basketball. They are regulation size, and I’m sure he’s got lots, and the school will have lots, so it’s not exciting at all. It’s just the writer’s shortcut… “Boy likes basketball. He wants a basketball for christmas. Bosh. Done.”]
Once the rest of the family leaves, we go straight into Hallmark mode – I almost expect a red-or green-clad Lacey Chabert to walk past and say something adorable – with the scent of pine needles from the tree, hot chocolate, twinkling lights on the tree being their only source of illumination, and it’s all very Christmassy.
The twins exchange boxes of almost exactly the same size. Jessica opens first, and is underwhelmed with the picture from their seventh birthday, but Elizabeth reassures her that it’s not her main present, and Jessica is visibly relieved.
Jessica dug through the tissue paper until she came to Elizabeth’s story. She picked up the pages and held them in front of her. “What is it?” she asked doubtfully. “An essay or something?”
Elizabeth, naturally, is quite offended about this. I mean, every few months Fandom Secret has a secret about someone who wrote for a fanfic exchange, and never got a comment from their giftee, and they feel rightly hurt that the receiver has either read it and could not find a kind thing to say, or didn’t bother to read it. On the other hand, Jessica never joined a fic exchange.
Elizabeth explains that it’s her favourite memory of their seventh birthday. Jessica says it’s awfully long, and she’s sure she’ll read it at some point. And, y’know, that’s a really nice photo frame.
Elizabeth hides the tears as she opens the gift from Jessica, with very little enthusiasm. She’s very taken by the pin that Jessica bought her, but less so with the concert tickets. You see, the concert happens on New Year’s Day, and she has a Sixers brunch that day to plan the New Year edition of the paper. Brunch? Your friends are such saints, I’m sure they’ll understand you moving a brunch for a once-in-a-lifetime concert. I know it’s ordinarily a bit rude, but FFS, there are a whole bunch of days available in the Christmas holidays, and you’re all twelve, it’s not as if you have to rearrange childcare or work out who’s got the car, or show up to work. Just rearrange it, you utter cauliflower. [Raven: Pretty sure if one of Elizabeth’s friends was gifted similar concert tickets, they’d be cancelling on Elizabeth before the wrapping paper hit the fucking floor.]
Jessica is furious. She got permission from the parents, she organised the travel, Lizzie loves whales! Elizabeth snaps back that she put her heart and soul into that story, and Jessica isn’t willing to read it. Even though she’s massively wrong (Wing and I used to gift fic all the time [Wing: Amazing fic at that. I’d never give fic to Ostrich, though, because he’s not a fiction reader.]), it will never not be amusing when Jessica says:
“A story? That’s like giving someone homework for a Christmas present,” Jessica cried, standing abruptly and kicking a pile of wrapping aside. “At least I gave you something fun.”
The twins quickly decide the other is selfish and they’re never speaking as long as they live.
So… tl;dr: Hallmark to Lifetime in three pages.
The next morning, Jessica gets up and finds Elizabeth changing the from tag on their present to Steven, Elizabeth thinks it will be hilarious to change it to read “from Santa” after their japes yesterday. Seconds later, another argument kicks off, with both twins waiting for the other’s apology.
The grandparents show up, followed by Steven and the gin-soaked parents. After a bit of bickering, the rest of the household insists on a truce between the twins until Christmas is over.
Gifts are given out, and then we come to the presents from the Robertson grandparents. They have a story attached. They used to belong to a set of twins earlier in the tree, Samantha (the Jessica) and Amanda (the Elizabeth). They are the twins’ great-grandparents (so two down from the owner of the carved wooden rose). Or, to put it another way, the parents of one of the Robertson grandparents. This rings a bell with the Sweet Valley Sagas from the High series. I’m sure Rosey will chime in to confirm or nitpick, she told me she loves the sagas.
Edit (before this even got posted): Super Rosey contacted me with a family tree image, because she’s on fire when it comes to this stuff.
In the 1920s Samantha and Amanda fell for a chap named Ted. Amanda carried on with him in secret over letter without telling Samantha, allegedly so as not to hurt her. When Samantha found out, she responded in true Jessica fashion – she set Ted up for bootlegging booze. And then made it look like Amanda was the one who shopped him.
Holy fuck. I’d forgotten how utterly terrifying an adult Jessica is. I know she’s called Samantha in this story, but I’ve read the sagas back in the day, and it’s the same character exactly.
Apparently the twins reconciled on the birth of Grandma Robertson, but after giving birth, Samantha died, and Amanda had to live with the enduring sadness, and the knowledge that she should have forgiven her twin years ago, for the rest of her life.
WHAT? Samantha basically went: “my fella’s cheating on me with my twin, I’m going to send him to jail and make him think Amanda did it”, and it’s Amanda’s fault she didn’t reconcile with her? If you think the Twins writers have issues, wait until you get to High. The whole Mercandy backyard thing stops being a joke and starts to become uncomfortable subtext.
Elizabeth frowned. She knew her grandparents were trying to teach her and Jessica a lesson. But her fight with Jessica wasn’t anything like the one between Samantha and Amanda. If Grandma and Grandpa Robertson could have seen how horribly Jessica had treated her last night, they’d understand why Elizabeth couldn’t forgive her.
No, Elizabeth, let me rewrite that for you.
Elizabeth frowned. She knew her grandparents were trying to teach her and Jessica a lesson. But Samantha was a fucking sociopath and Amanda was a fool. While she and Jessica were clearly headed in that direction, they weren’t there yet, and, deep down, Elizabeth knew that sooner or later she would meekly hand over her spine, and she and Jessica would be back to business as usual, so Grandma Robertson could take her fucking parable and ram it up her elderly size-six ass.
They open the gifts and they’re antique harlequin dolls. Elizabeth’s doll has a goofy grin, where Jessica’s is serious. Oh, and since it doesn’t explain it for another few pages: the dolls are boys. Each doll has a medallion around its neck with a half a poem on.
Wheels on a cart.
Unite all these things:
Eyes, feet, and wings,
Scissors and socks,
Hands found on clocks.
Joined from the start.
Answer this well,
Escape the dread spell.
And magic’s your friend.
Add a good rhyme,
Escape one last time.”
Steven asks what’s up with the rhyme, and Grandma Robertson ~mysteriously~ says the twins must figure it out. Neither twin is particularly intrigued though, still hurting over their fight.
That evening, the whole family gathered around the TV to watch an old Christmas movie called It’s a Wonderful Life.
Uh. In twelve books, they do a Sweet Valley retelling of it, so maybe don’t name-drop it here. Neither twin can stand being in the same room as each other, so they both make excuses and go to bed without seeing the movie.
Jessica can’t relax with the creepy glass eyes of her doll staring at her (it looks like Elizabeth in one of her analytical moods), so she makes it face the wall. [Wing: No lie, I wouldn’t sleep with that damn doll in my room.]
She falls into a fitful sleep and wakes up saying the word “pairs”, but not sure why she’s said it. She says it again, then her eye falls on the doll, and she realises that it’s the answer to the riddle on the medallion. They all come in pairs.
Then her doll gets up.
No, it’s not Child’s Play. Calm down, Wing. (Also, fellow recappers, before you comment on the weird jump of genre, keep reading until the end of the chapter, when I go into it then.) [Wing: Damn it and damn it again.]
Over in Elizabeth’s room, the same thing happens. She solves the riddle as she wakes, and her doll gets up. She decides it’s a dream, because hello! Walking doll! She decides to follow it to make sure it doesn’t wake the household. And then she realises what a daft train of thought that all was.
As the doll walks, it becomes more like a real boy than a doll. It crashes down the stairs, becoming more human with every step – although its mouth is still painted plastic. Before it goes out the front door, it gives her a jaunty wave.
And if you think Elizabeth Wakefield is going to let some doll run amok in Sweet Valley, then you haven’t been paying attention. This is the kind of thing a model student would nip in the bud.
Elizabeth keeps following the doll/boy out of the door and down the road, calling for it/him to stop. It stops and waves at her wildly but still can’t speak. The air starts to shimmer in waves of gold, and Elizabeth reaches out to touch the waves, as the doll snaps, “Stay back, you fool!”
She gets most indignant about being called a fool – doesn’t the doll know that she is Saint Elizabeth? – and steps closer, asking where he is.
She closes her eyes, and when she opens them, she’s in the middle of a field of tall grass with flowers and trees around her. The trees look like weeping willows, but their leaves are pink. To one side is a menacing forest and an imposing mountain.
And there’s a cute boy who’s angry with her. She asks where she is, and he says now’s a fine time to ask. They’re in the Hidden Kingdom. Elizabeth asks if that’s in Europe which, even as a tween, struck me as a really stupid question. [Raven: “One day, lad, all this will be yours.” … “What, the curtains?”] He says he doesn’t know, his brother Dorin is the one who’s good at school. But it’s not near The Other Land, which is where she’s from. He’s Prince Adair.
Elizabeth decides this is all silly and she’s probably asleep in bed. So Adair, being the charmer he is, yanks her hair. While I can’t deny that hair-pulling does feel like a good response to Elizabeth’s smugness, no! Not only shouldn’t he abuse a girl, her immediate though is how cute he is. Again: no.
He thanks her for undoing the spell, and tells her the only way for her to get home is through the Labyrinth (it’s capitalised in the book, that wasn’t me being random [Wing: But alas, no David Bowie in sight.]). Now, he has to go, this is a dangerous world, and this is the most dangerous place, so laters!
Elizabeth stops him again with more questions, and he explains that for years he’s been imprisoned in a doll’s body by Medwin, and now the spell is broken, it has returned him to the exact place it was cast on him.
(Sidenote: my stepdad’s name was Edwin. Typing Medwin feels like a typo.)
Even though that seems to make sense, Elizabeth has more questions, but is interrupted by a snuffling sound: creatures about the size of a small dog, with grey fur, leathery ears, and a long tail. They’re called bludrats. And they’ve caught their scent.
Ok, now we’ve come to a natural pause, this is where my tween-self started raging. What the fuck is going on? Why is this a fantasy book? Did we learn nothing from The Class Trip? What fresh hell is this? I hate fantasy. Lord of the Rings is fucking boring, no matter what my dad says. I wanted time travel, or past-life regression. I wanted ghosts. I wanted Christmas. Now it’s fucking summer in a meadow of fucking pink trees!
However, on a second read, knowing what I was into, I was more like:
This is my silly, indulgent nonsense. I’ve previously mentioned that I never really got why Cleolinda loved Twilight so much. I could understand her reasoning, but could not enjoy Twilight in the same way she did. This, though, I can do.
I also get the feeling that Raven may object to some of the creatures and their names. He may not, but sometimes he gets irrationally angry about fantasy names and rip-off creatures.
[Raven: I’m largely fine with the fantasy aspect of this book, and I’ve no issue with the names of the creatures and races herein. For the record, this is a much more realised fantasy story than the Fucking Class Trip, which was just the fever dream of an idiot. I do have some problems with it, which will be revealed as the recap unfolds. But the one thing I will say is that while the fantastic story isn’t offensive, it’s not what I come to Sweet Valley for. I want fun with the Unicorns, not with actual unicorns. Also, I hate that even the people who live there call it the Hidden Kingdom. What’s it hidden from? I know the answer is “our world”, but that just means their homeland is named solely in relation to somewhere else. It’s like renaming Great Britain “France-Adjacent Colony”.]
So, back to the story. Jessica goes through much the same as Elizabeth, except she doesn’t actively chase the vortex, she just happens to be trapped in it because her doll doesn’t manage to leave her room because she blocks him.
Once in the Hidden Kingdom, they find themselves by a stream. Jessica’s doll is called Prince Dorin, and he did try to warn her, but just like his twin, Adair, he didn’t regain his voice until it was too late. Also, Jessica is sass personified. When Dorin introduces himself as a prince, she counters that she’s Queen of Sweet Valley. He’s hurt by that. Again, these boys do not understand Wakefields. You tell the prissy one not to do something, she’ll do it because she knows better. And the murderous one really is a queen. Look how much shit she gets away with.
Jessica also thinks everything is a dream, right up until Dorin uses the word chimera. She realises that there’s no way someone could use a word in her dream if she didn’t know it. (Actually, Jessica, dreams where everyone’s speaking a language that you don’t know are very common. The language isn’t a real language, but the certainty that they know the real language and you don’t feels very real.)
Dorin explains that it’s amazing the riddle was solved, because it had to be solved by two different people in two different places at exactly the same time. Yeah, thank god for the Wakefields, because those odds are pretty damned slim. Dorin says that Medwin did obey the first rule of magic, which is there must be an escape clause, he just made his damned near impossible.
Dorin goes on to say that time moves differently in the Hidden Kingdom. He and Adair were trapped for a hundred years in the Other Land, but only a year has passed here. So Jessica has been missing for at least a week in the few minutes she’s been here. A year may well have passed by the time she gets to the Labyrinth. [Raven: All very Flight of the Navigator. Compliance!]
Jessica nearly cries over this, seeming to actually worry that her parents think she’s vanished without a trace. Oh. No. She’s worried about all the Unicorn meetings and episodes of Days of Turmoil she’ll miss, not to mention how out of date her wardrobe will be when she gets back. Never mind.
Dorin says that as Jessica freed him, he will do everything in his power – as soon as he retakes his kingdom – to get her home. Jessica shakes off her tears and says, let’s go. He laughs and says that she reminds him of her twin, he’s impulsive too.
Jessica then comes to a halt as she realises that she’s wearing a nightie and is barefoot. Dorin says she should go ahead and change. Jessica snaps that she didn’t pack a suitcase. Dorin explains that all she needs to do is imagine what she wants to wear and it shall appear. As someone who has never been comfortable in their own skin, I found myself worrying along the lines of, “What if you accidentally think about nudity and you’re naked in front of people?” or “What if you lose concentration, and you end up nude anyway?”
My worries expand when Dorin says you need to think very carefully, imagine every detail, and then wish for it to be real. I suppose once it’s been wished, it just is and won’t vanish? What happens if someone else wishes you naked? I know naked keeps popping up here, but I assure you, it’s anxiety, not perviness. [Raven: The whole magic aspect of the Hidden Kingdom is appalling.]
Dorin says he would do the magic for her, but even the smallest blip will get him on Medwin’s radar. But Jessica honestly can’t wait to try it. She pictures a gorgeous dress she saw in a magazine. And it’s amazing! She can do magic! To a point. She manages the front, but doesn’t know what the back looks like, so on the front she’s got a great-looking dress, on the back is her nightie. She tries again, this time going for a more sensible option of her favourite purple sweatshirt and jean. It’s not perfect, a bit scratchy, but better than a nightgown.
She then nearly keels over. Magic tires out new users. I feel your pain, Jess. I feel like I need a nap and a rest of my hip after every driving lesson. [Edit from the now: I switched to automatic. Now I am a driving god.]
She still hasn’t made shoes when they hear a slithering and twig-snapping noise. Dorin says he believes that’s the sound of an approaching serpasaur. A serpasaur is basically a gigantic snake, the width of a tree trunk. Jessica asks if they’re poisonous, and is relieved to find out they’re not. Less relieved to find out they happily chow down on people. [Wing: It’s a damn dragon, author. DRAGON. D.R.A.G.O.N. And I love it.] [Raven: I know they are dragons, as the lore says so later on, but I didn’t see them as dragons at all. I saw them as, well, big snakes.] [Dove: I read them as big snakes but, as Raven points out, later it’s confirmed that people from our world called them dragons. Also, I imagine they’re all blue.]
As the serpasaur appears beside them, Dorin dithers around, he’s read several accounts of how to fight them, but they have no weapons, and he’s not sure – and at this point, Jessica grabs his hand and drags them both into the stream beside them. Dorin says she’s just as impulsive as his brother. Jessica replies that she made a decision, since she knew all she needed to about serpasaurs.
Dorin says no, there’s one more thing: they’re fucking awesome swimmers.
The fast-moving stream empties into a still lake, and Jessica realises she’s going to be eaten by a thing that shouldn’t exist, in a land she shouldn’t be in.
Back with Elizabeth, she and Adair are running for their lives from the bludrats, and Elizabeth is tired because she’s created much the same outfit as Jessica, but with sneakers, but nothing fits right and it’s uncomfortable – welcome to clothes shopping as a non-Wakefield, kiddos. Adair comments that Elizabeth has “no flair for fashion” and that he could have made something very stylish for her, but if he uses magic, Medwin will know immediately.
I… actually like this as a mechanic, to be honest. It would be daft for princes in a land of magic not to have skills, but to let them run amok would make this a very boring and easy story. I like that they have a reason for not using their high-level magic, unlike Gandalf who just moseys along, being super-powerful, but for some reason makes everyone else do it the hard way while he smokes his pipe.
Elizabeth stops, utterly exhausted, and Adair drags her to her feet, and gives her a Kyle Reese pep-talk to get her moving.
“Listen to me, Elizabeth!” Adair commanded. “We’re faster than the bludrats, but they don’t get tired. Do you understand me? They never get tired. Now, move!”
Adair says they have to reach the snow on the mountain, because the bludrats can’t deal with snow. He thinks. Maybe. Elizabeth spots a cave and wills herself to keep going, they can make it.
Except they can’t. The bludrats catch up and circle around them. Adair pulls Elizabeth close to him and says he’ll have to use magic, it’s their only way, if only he had a sword….
Elizabeth tries to make a sword, but instead makes a cardboard prop they used in a third-grade play. She sees Adair considering using magic, and tries again. This time she makes a match, and with it they make a torch out of a dry tree branch.
This keeps the bludrats at bay so they can continue their climb. Elizabeth points out the cave, and Adair says it’s below the snow line, so the bludrats would just drive them into it and eat them. Elizabeth says why don’t they cause an avalanche using a loud noise?
“A loud noise?” Adair repeated. Suddenly he lunged forward, thrusting the torch like a sword into the belly of the closest bludrat. The bludrat’s scream of pain was deafening.
Um. For a tween book, that’s actually quite dark. Just sayin’.
[Wing: AND AMAZING.]
Adair and Elizabeth make a dash for the cave as the snow starts making its way down the mountain, and Elizabeth is grabbed around the ankle and torn from Adair’s grasp.
Over with Jessica – jeez, these pov switches are R. L. Stine-ing us to death, aren’t they? – she and Dorin are just about to die when:
Ok, it’s not Sea Ponies, but bat and I are so conditioned to see water and peril end with Sea Ponies, that it’s what I thought.
Actually, a bunch of silver spears fly from the water and embed in the serpasaur “like needles in a huge pincushion”. A bunch of (beautiful, of course) women with green hair appear in the water. Jessica asks Dorin what they are, and he replies they are “mermanon”. Two things: why doesn’t Jessica say, “Oooh, are they mermaids?” because if this girl knows what a unicorn looks like, she’ll recognise a mermaid; also, why aren’t they called “mermaids”? Just why?
[Wing: I can live with most of the ridiculous names, though I’m annoyed only unicorns get to be actual unicorns, but what the ever loving fuck is the word mermanon? MERMANON? Is it a mer person on an anon meme? BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.]
Anyway, the mermanon cheer and laugh as the serpasaur dies. Dies. Literally dies. We’ve recapped a lot of kid TV (or at least bagsied what we want to recap and started re-watching in preparation), and monsters don’t die, they get chased off and everyone cheers. But this dies.
[Wing: Because when this book is good, it is amazing. Mermaids killing dragons. I love it.]
Even Jessica is astounded, she says they act as if it was fun. Jessica, surely you should understand that, so many people are buried in the Mercandy backyard because of your fun. [Raven: That wasn’t fun. That was neccessity.] [Dove: She definitely killed Sandra Ferris for fun.]
One of the mermanon introduces herself as Meralia, the captain of the guard. Jessica thanks her for killing the serpasaur, and Meralia pointedly says that the guard defend against all creatures that foul their waters. Jessica says she’s not fouling anything. Meralia counters that she doesn’t have Merelantha’s permission to pass through. Jessica says she’s never even heard of Merelantha, and that is clearly a mistake because Meralia pulls out a dagger. A dagger. That escalated quickly.
(But, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure a Unicorn would respond the same way if someone said they’d never heard of Janet Howell. And their daggers would be purple.)
Dorin quickly explains that Jessica is from the Other Land and didn’t mean any offense, and once he explains who he is, the mermanon soften and say that Merelantha will want to speak to him. Dorin tries to avoid it, but the mermanon point out that in the water, Merelantha’s rule trumps his princeliness, so suck it. Dorin quickly agrees, and diplomatically adds that Merelantha has always been a good friend to his family.
When Jessica finds out that Merelantha lives at the bottom of the lake, she tries to excuse herself, but the mermanon explain that two bubblefish will transport them. It’s exactly what you think, it’s a fish with a body that looks like a plastic bag, and once it inflates, the rider is supposed to climb in through the mouth. We have a lovely Jessica babble here in response.
“Look,” Jessica said, backing away, “I’m not a big fish person, if you know what I mean. As a matter of fact, I hate fish. When they serve fish sticks in the school cafeteria, I always bring my lunch.” Suddenly she realized that she was speaking to a woman who probably had some very close relatives with gills. “Nothing personal,” Jessica added quickly. “It’s not that I don’t like fish. It’s just that I don’t like to eat fish. And no way am I letting a fish eat me!”
Still, she has to do it because the mermanon will cut a bitch for taking too long. She doesn’t like it.
And back to Elizabeth. She kicks the bludrat in the chest and she and Adair run to the cave just in time. The bludrats aren’t so lucky. Adair remarks that they’re “finished”, so they’re probably dead. He adds that it was exciting – he’s been a doll for so long it makes a nice change. He adds that Medwin actually created the bludrats – he took regular friendly creatures and made them vicious attack-animals.
Then Elizabeth spots some furs just lying around in the cave, and says she must be good luck, because now they won’t have to sleep on the cold ground. They will dig their way out in the morning. At first this threw me, but then I remembered that the twins had only been asleep for a few hours before the dolls woke them up, so I guess they’re just going to catch up on the rest of that night’s sleep. But no, Elizabeth refers to it as “last night”… oh, whatever.
Elizabeth says she’s almost afraid to close her eyes, but Adair says that he’ll take care of her. It feels like she’s been away from home for “forever” and wishes she was there, but actually it’s been what, an hour? They arrived, saw the bludrats, ran, and now they need to sleep again.
The next morning, Elizabeth wakes up ravenous, and a bit grumpy about having to dig her way out of the cave. I’m just sorry she didn’t suffocate in the cave. She starts dreaming of her favourite breakfast, and when she opens her eyes, the cave is absolutely filled with food. Adair says she did it by accident, she was just so hungry.
I’m just going to put it out there that incarceration must be easy as pie in this world. Oh, my cell’s too small, cold and I have no food. Gosh, I wish there was an additional, sumptuous room, and my favourite food, oh, and some books, and… wow, this is like being on holiday. [Raven: As I said. Appalling.]
Adair tells her to eat, and it does bring her strength back up. This is not a good mechanic. There is literally no problem that magic can’t solve now we know it makes food, which tires you out, so you need to eat, but you can make food… how does anyone have a hard life in this world?
Adair gets grease on his jeans, and starts muttering darkly about how people will talk if he wears the same thing two days in a row, but he also rejects Elizabeth’s offer to help, because her clothes are horrible. Elizabeth says it’s a pity Jessica’s not around, because she’s stylish.
Then she goes into a shame spiral about their fight. And she wonders what Jessica thinks about the fact she’s disappeared. Probably “Woohoo! Now I have TWO bedrooms! I shall use the second for Unicorn meetings! Mom, can I swap Elizabeth’s bed for a sofa, and can I paint her room purple?”
When Elizabeth asks about the spell, and Adair says that Dorin returned to the place where he was exiled, just like Adair did, Elizabeth wonders if Jessica got caught up in the vortex. He asks if she’s likely to rush into things without knowing about them, and Elizabeth takes it as read that Jessica is in the Hidden Kingdom too.
Adair notices that Elizabeth is looking all soulful and asks what’s up. Elizabeth tries to explain the very deep and complex issues that she and Jessica has, but Adair hears the word “fight” and waves it off. He and Dorin fight all the time. It’s not surprising, as he’s an uptight, rule-following, Mr Perfect.
Elizabeth takes this as a personal affront, because she is also perfect, and she doesn’t like it when people don’t respect her perfection.
Adair says there’s nothing wrong with being perfect, he just doesn’t want to be. He and Dorin share the kingdom. Dorin does the boring stuff like potholes and bridge repair, and Adair is in charge of the festivals and parties. I’m not exaggerating, that’s how it was described.
Elizabeth asks what happened to their kingdom. Elizabeth, haven’t you been paying attention, fucking MEDWIN. Which is what Adair replies, only without the bitchiness. He says he hated being a doll, and when Samantha was six, she put makeup on him. I can only assume someone took it off, because I’ve ruined many a My Little Pony because my kid-self put makeup (lipstick and nail polish) on them, and then I outgrew them and they spent 20 years in storage, and you know what? It’s impossible to get 20 year old lipstick off a pony. Although they’re not made of porcelain. Even so, wouldn’t it stain the paint on the face?
Elizabeth picked up a bowl of strawberries. Her appetite was finally beginning to return. “There are still some things I don’t understand, though. Where is the Hidden Kingdom—I mean, in relation to the place I come from? And, excuse me, but why do you guys still have kings and princes? Haven’t you ever heard of democracy? And where did Medwin come from? And what’s the deal with this Labyrinth you were telling me about?”
Elizabeth, if you’re so smart, how can you not work out that the Hidden Kingdom is other to our world. It exists, but you won’t find it on a map. It’s not a hard concept to wrap your mind around. Also, fuck you with your democracy snootiness. I’m sensing a FOURTH OF JULY, MOTHERFUCKERS attitude from her with that. And you’ll know from previous books that I’m not a fan of the monarchy in the slightest (although I’ve warmed to the Queen significantly), but that’s an incredibly snotty thing to say to someone.
Adair tells her he’s not a history teacher, and Elizabeth judges him hard for that – how can he rule if he doesn’t know anything about his kingdom. I would side with her objectively, but I still want to kick her really hard. He says Dorin knows all that stuff.
Elizabeth sulks because she realises he’s just like Jessica, therefore having an intelligent conversation is off the table. Then she realises that Jessica might have been eaten by bludrats, and feels sad instead of sulky.
Adair asks her to make a match so they can set a fire. Elizabeth suggests they make the fire next to the snow so it melts. This is apparently a good idea. There’s no mention of it, but I can only imagine her brilliant idea came with sluiceways to ensure the melting snow didn’t put the fire out. Also, I assume this cave must be large enough not to suffocate them with the smoke. But then, everyone knows I don’t understand cave dimensions.
They get outside and it’s pretty and peaceful but Adair says it won’t be for long.
And then we cut back to Jessica, who has just climbed into her bubblefish. She’ll grudgingly admit it’s not as bad as she thought, and when she sees an avalanche in the distance, she thinks to herself that it could be worse. But then the fish and mermanon dive she panics. When she realises she can still breathe, her panic lessens, a bit, but she panics again when it gets so dark she can’t see Dorin. She calls out to him and promises he won’t leave her. She perks up when she sees twinkling lights, which Dorin tells her is Zerasharb, the city of the mermanons. Oh. Arse. So the plural has an s? I thought it was one of those words where the singular was the same as the plural. [Raven: “Mermanon, do-dooooo do-do-dooo. Mermanon do-doo do-do.“]
The city is made of what looks like jewel-coloured glass, and the entryways are not in the usual places, they are wherever they fit, roofs, high on walls, etc. That’s a nice detail for the Jamie to have thought of.
When they reach the palace, Jessica’s jaw drops with the sheer bling, it has columns of translucent silver and gold in a hallway of mirrors. I bet even Fowler Crest doesn’t have that. (I bet even Lila would blanche at the ostentatiousness of that.)
After a long while they reached the end of the hall of mirrors and entered a vaulted room so tall that the ceiling was almost out of sight. When Jessica looked down, she realized that the floor was equally far away, hundreds of feet below. The entire room was round, like the inside of a huge globe. A magnificent ball of light floated in the very center of the room. It slowly changed from one brilliant color to another as Jessica watched. In the center of the globe of light was a beautiful mermanon. From her regal bearing, Jessica knew that it had to be Merelantha.
“I expected her to be on a throne,” Jessica said, just loudly enough for Dorin to hear.
“There isn’t much point in sitting down when you’re underwater,” Dorin pointed out. “The light surrounding her is her throne.”
Again, I’ve got to give this Jamie kudos for thinking of that. It may not be groundbreaking to people who read mermaid stuff all the time, but I never have, so I like these little details that this Jamie has thrown in. I’m starting to think this Jamie gets angry when she watches The Little Mermaid.
[Wing: (a) I got annoyed when I compared this to The Little Mermaid BECAUSE JAMIE MAKES A GOOD POINT ABOUT THE THRONE. (b) This is amazing, and I would like to live there forever.]
Merelantha is very beautiful, obviously, and she addresses as them as a “young man-creature, and an old woman-creature.” Dorin introduces himself as Prince of the Hidden Kingdom, and she quickly slaps him down by pointing out that he rules the surface realms only – and right now, he rules nothing because Medwin has taken over. Also, he’s a self-righteous asshat with a stick up his butt, and his twin is a vapid moron. And I have only slightly exaggerated. [Wing: *swoons*]
Merelantha is clearly the personification of every reader (and probably writer) who has ever had to deal with the twins’ perfection. It’s kind of joyous. I just wish it’d been aimed at the Wakefields.
She then calls Jessica old again, and Jessica takes offense. Merelantha comments that she has the “golden hair of old age” but has a young face.
Merelantha says that they will stay overnight in the palace, then she’ll turn them over to Medwin. She doesn’t really have a horse in the race, but it’s best not to anger a powerful sorcerer. Jessica tries to plead for their lives, but Dorin says she won’t do that. He’s read the history and knows that some villagers turned Medwin over to the king of that time, and he retaliated by poisoning their water source, except it flowed downstream and killed the mermanons instead. One of the dead was a princess called Merelinda, Merelantha’s sister.
Merelantha laughs and says she was just testing him. [Wing: I love her so much.] She’s impressed by his knowledge of history but doesn’t know whether he has the courage needed to lead.
Dorin feels that toxic masculinity kicking in and vows that he will defeat Medwin alone, how’s that for courage? She says yes, that would be brave, but he does not have the power to defeat Medwin, nor does Adair. Still, if they want to get themselves killed, go for it, she won’t stop them, nor would she ever do anything to help Medwin. So they can stay in their special room for surface creatures, and set out in the morning.
They’re taken to a glass- or crystal-walled room, where the bubblefish leave them. Jessica actually thanks the bubblefish for the ride, which is nice. I have a low-key theory that Jessica would be a much better person if she didn’t have a twin. Without Elizabeth to constantly screw over and manipulate, Jessica would have to pull that shit on other people, and other people would not meekly hand over their spine. Then Jessica would learn from her actions and become decent. Or she’d spoil her entire life, that’s also possible. Whereas I think Elizabeth would just be Elizabeth without a twin.
Meralia pokes her head through a hole in the floor and uses magic to create two beds and a table piled high with food. She says that there will be a big party at the castle tomorrow as Medwin is celebrating his reign. It will be a good time to sneak into the castle. She adds that personally she hopes they kick ass, because one day Medwin will come for them, and while they’ll put up a terrific fight, they won’t win.
Jessica wakes in the middle of the night to find Meralia has returned. Dorin remains asleep while they talk. She gives Jessica a gold key encrusted with green stones, and says that Jessica cannot tell Dorin about the key. If he fails, Medwin may overlook Jessica, and the key must not fall into his hands. Also, “What the prince cannot do, you may still accomplish.”
Jessica asks what the key is for, and Meralia says she will understand when the time comes.
Jessica thanks her for the key because it’s beautiful and expensive. Then realises that the concept of expensive probably is hard to pitch to a kingdom that makes stuff just by thinking about it.
Dorin wakes up and Jessica pockets the key. Meralia says that it’s time to go, by the time the bubblefish reach the surface, it will be sunrise. Also, Merelantha has had word from the sea birds that Adair is making his way to the castle with someone who looks just like Jessica.
They have breakfast, then take the trip up to the surface. As they leave, Jessica says she’ll miss Meralia, and wonders what she would look like with green hair (surely the Unicorns would kick her out for any other colour than purple?) but Dorin says that her hair is already very beautiful, like spun gold. Then they both blush.
Jessica is glad to be on dry land again, and takes a good look round. Only to see a rustling in the bushes and a horn emerge.
What beast is this?
Well, here’s a hint: thank god Jessica is still a virgin.
Slowly, cautiously, as Jessica watched in growing wonder, an animal emerged from the grass. It was the size of a pony, but with sleek, cream-colored hair and a long, flowing mane that looked like threads of silver. Its eyes were wide and intelligent as it returned Jessica’s gaze. From its forehead grew a single golden horn.
“A… a unicorn,” Jessica whispered in awe. “An actual unicorn!”
(I can hear the unsaid: TAKE THAT, LILA AND JANET! I’VE MET A REAL UNICORN!”
Over with Elizabeth and Adair, they’re climbing a mountain to talk to an old man called Toramon. Elizabeth wants to know about the Labyrinth, but Adair doesn’t know because he never paid attention to his tutors, but he did throw a costume ball for May Festival that people are still talking about. This guy is just fandom!Draco, isn’t he? All fabulousness, snobbery, and shiny hair.
Also, the guy they’re going to see? Adair knows about him because of a nursery rhyme. It goes:
“Three wise ones can be found, my child,
On mountain, sea, and land.
And should you need to know what’s right,
They’ll lend a helping hand.
Climb high up to the clouds, my child,
Where winds blow cold and strong.
And there you’ll find old Toramon;
He’ll tell you right from wrong.”
“Dive deep into the sea, my child,
With waters black as night.
Old Merelantha rules the deep.
She’ll tell you wrong from right.”
“Go far into the woods, my child,
Where magic sings its song.
There Medwin lives among the trees.
He’ll tell you right from wrong.”
Obviously the last verse was back in the days before Medwin turned evil. Or maybe he was always evil but had good PR. Elizabeth wonders if Toramon has gone evil too. Elizabeth suggests they go back, but Adair says there’s no point. Toramon can see the future, so he already knows they’re coming. That’s probably a good indication he’s not evil then, because if I knew they were coming, I’d send another avalanche. [Raven: That rhyme is decent, to be fair.]
The fact that they’re going up a mountain to see a wise old man who knows everything reminds me of The Neverending Story, which is probably the best fantasy book in the world – but if you read my earlier rants, you’ll know it’s the only one I’ve read, aside from Lord of the Rings (my dad said they were good, I feel betrayed). Is this a fantasy trope, that psychic old men live on the top of mountains?
Oh, hey, Adair’s on to my theory about him not being evil. Well, actually, he says he thinks the last avalanche slowed down to give them time to reach the cave, and there were warm furs in the cave.
They go through some fog and arrive at a stone cottage with flowers. Elizabeth comments on the beauty of the flowers and this signals the arrival of Toramon.
Elizabeth whirled around to see a gnarled old man with a beard so long that it nearly trailed on the ground. He was dressed in a simple white robe, and despite his age, he moved with quick, agile steps. But what was most remarkable about him was his eyes. They were a piercing blue, wise and yet full of youthful energy.
“I knew she would like the flowers,” he chattered happily. “So many, everywhere flowers, the little woman from the Other Land, oh yes, the Other Land, but not the same flowers as she has seen, no, these are new, different flowers to make her happy, to make her smile.”
Elizabeth realized with a sinking feeling that despite the wisdom in his eyes, the old man’s words didn’t make much sense at all.
Fuck off, Elizabeth. That’s not really true, is it? He’s made perfect sense, he just didn’t use perfect syntax. But if you’re too dim to translate: Yay, she likes my flowers, they’re different to the ones in her world, but they still make her happy. It’s honestly not rocket science.
Adair asks if he’s Toramon. Toramon replies (in the same kind of style as above), yes he is, he knows that he’s Prince Adair, who knows nothing but nursery rhymes, jumps into things without thinking, but wants to defeat Medwin.
Elizabeth thanks him for his help with the bludrats. He says he hates them, and they must come in for tea.
Adair doesn’t understand, but Elizabeth is smart and she is able to translate. For fuck’s sake, I know this is a tween readership, but it’s not even as if he’s as jumbled River Tam (who was still understandable), he’s merely repeating words and speaking like an excited child. Adair comes across as either too stupid or too arrogant to listen. Neither of which are attractive traits – especially for a leader. Wow. That paragraph just got political without meaning to. [Wing: *weeps* Can I go live with the mermanons yet?]
Adair doesn’t want tea, he wants answers, but Toramon insists. The tea tastes like “a cup of flower petals”, which is apparently delicious. That sounds foul to me, like those herbal teas that smell amazing, but taste of stale hot water.
Adair says he plans to throw out Medwin, and Toramon laughs in his face and says yes, he has power, but not enough to beat Medwin, last time he tried, he ended up a doll. Now, apparently, Adair has no problem understanding Toramon, even though he hasn’t changed his speech patterns at all. Adair said he broke the spell and Toramon points out that Adair did fuck all to break the spell. I like all these wise characters. They have zero patience for the princes’ posturing. It’s fucking refreshing. However, to their detriment, they seem to like the Wakefields, so it’s not quite a full win. On the other other hand, Toramon adds that Elizabeth alone didn’t break the spell, her twin did, with their dreams… so did Toramon send the dreams? If so, did he send the dreams to Samantha and Amanda and they didn’t bother to speak the word “pairs”?
Adair gets fed up and ready to storm out (and, presumably, compose angry tweets about the state of the mountain, probably that it’s got no-go areas for whites and is under Sharia Law), but Elizabeth talks him down.
Toramon says that Adair needs to remember all of the rhyme, and even Elizabeth can see farther than him. Of course she can, Toramon, if you know everything, you will know she’s Saint Wakefield. Elizabeth asks if Toramon can see someone who looks like her. Toramon says yes, and does notes the same-but-different x2 situation. Elizabeth has to repeat this slowly and figure it out. Because she’s smart.
Toramon offers to show Elizabeth what he sees, and after hesitating for a moment, she takes his hand, which causes her to jump back instantly. She saw everything she’s done, and what Jessica and Dorin have done, and she saw a costume ball at the castle.
Adair demands to know, referring to Toramon as “old man”, whether the ball has already happened. Adair is an asshole. Once he finds out the ball is tonight, he rushes for the door. Elizabeth pauses to say thank you, and Toramon gives her a golden key with rubies on it.
“Take it, yes, take it, little Other Land girl. I see Merelantha has given hers, and Merelantha’s wisdom is great, yes, very great in matters of battle, and this is a battle,” the old man said seriously, looking deep into Elizabeth’s eyes. “When the dread one flees and the best have earned their rest, then the other, and another like the other, may need the keys to secrets, and secret keys.”
Again, she has to keep the key secret, so she takes it.
Elizabeth joins Adair and says why don’t they ask Toramon which way to go, and Adair snaps that he’s not going back to listen to an hour of babble he doesn’t understand. Please note from the two quotes above, only a fucking moron can’t understand Toramon. [Raven: I think Toramon living on a mountain isn’t the safest call for him. I, for one, within two minutes of meeting him, would gladly hoof him off a fucking cliff. He’s such a fucking bellend. Wannabe two-bit Yoda knockoff.]
As they come out of the clouds, they find themselves in a forest of Tiviola trees, which are gigantic, and their leaves are bigger than Elizabeth’s bedroom. They head down the path until they are faced with a sheer drop. Adair angrily admits he should have got directions. (Ha ha, it’s funny because men never want to ask for directions. Except I’ve never met a man who wouldn’t ask for directions. Then again, all the men I know are nerds. Meet more nerds. They’re awesome.) [Wing: Some of them sure are. Avoid ones like GG and the Sad Puppies.]
Adair continues to sulk, realising that Dorin will get to the castle first, and be the one to defeat Medwin. Elizabeth calls him on his bullshit, and Adair admits that it’s not about defeating Medwin first, it’s that he doesn’t want his brother to be destroyed. Elizabeth says they ought to go back, but Adair does a Jessica-style grin that makes her worry.
His pitch? Leaf sailing. He’s heard that if you tie yourself to the underside of a leaf, you can fly. All practicalities of this aside, this is awesome. When I mentioned I was writing this recap on Twitter, @_sunshinebooks immediately hit back with a mention of leaf sailing. If you like this book, you love this idea.
[Wing: Even if I hated this book, I think I’d love this idea.]
Unless you’re Elizabeth. Elizabeth is rightly concerned with health and safety.
“You don’t understand,” Adair said intently. “Dorin and Jessica are on their way to confront Medwin. We’ve got to get to the castle in time, and this is our only hope.”
“I’m not going to be much help to Jessica if I’m splattered all over the ground,” Elizabeth argued.
“You’re not scared, are you?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “Yes, I am definitely scared. And I’m not at all ashamed to admit it. Jumping off thousand-foot-high cliffs, hanging on to an overgrown leaf, is definitely the kind of thing that scares me.”
Much as I hate Elizabeth, I’m not exactly against her viewpoint here. It’s hardly irrational to be afraid. Still, she goes along with it, and once Adair has built a harness to attach her to the leaf, and they’re ready to jump, she asks where he heard about leaf sailing. A nursery rhyme.
This guy just is Trump, isn’t he?
But they jump. [Raven: I know she has to jump to placate the needs of the narrative, but this is so out of Elizabeth’s wheelhouse I call actual bullshit. No way she’d do this without at least positing that this was all a dream first.]
Over with Jessica, she’s still squeeing over the appearance of actual unicorns. Dorin says if the unicorns agree, they can ride them to the castle. Jessica says they don’t have a saddle or bridle.
“Unicorns won’t accept saddles. They allow you to ride, or else they don’t. But you can’t tell a unicorn what to do.”
“Yep. That sounds about right,” Jessica said with a laugh, thinking of the Unicorns she knew in Sweet Valley.
Jessica asks the unicorn politely if she can ride him, and the unicorn lowers himself so she can hop on. Once she’s astride, she can’t help but comment that the Unicorns back home will never believe this. Then she has to explain the Unicorn club. Dorin agrees that she is the prettiest.
When they set off, Jessica wishes the Unicorns could see her now: riding a unicorn, with a handsome prince, BFFs with Meralia and on first-name terms with a queen. Then she realises that actually, it’s Elizabeth she wishes could see her now.
A shadow falls over her, and she sees two soaring specks in the sky and wonders what it is.
It’s Elizabeth and Adair! And they’re not dying. Adair is having a whale of a time, using his weight to make turns. Elizabeth manages to relax a little when she realises that she’s not going to die and gives directing the leaf a try. Then she realises that it’s AWESOME!
She takes in the scenery and sees what she thinks are two horse riders below. She mentions it to Adair who says they’re unicorns. Elizabeth says she’d give anything for Jessica to see them. Adair says she might have seen them by now, but if she hasn’t, after he retakes his kingdom, he’ll make sure she sees some.
It’s all very nice until Elizabeth spots a tornado. They shift their weight to try and descend faster, but the tornado approaches, and sucks them in.
On the ground, Jessica notices the tornado, but Dorin says that it’s heading away from them. After more than an hour’s ride, Jessica notices the countryside has changed from pleasant and lush meadows to dying vegetation, and finally a dusty, desolate village where a lot of the buildings have been burned. The people they pass look scared and grim. They smile briefly at the unicorns, but they’re clearly unhappy. Dorin gets angrier and angrier as they go on, and the unicorns become sullen in response to their surroundings.
After several such villages, the unicorns refuse to go any further. Dorin explains it was good of them to come this far, as they are creatures of goodness and this wasteland is painful to them. They thank the unicorns, who gallop off immediately.
Dorin says it wasn’t like this in his day, this is Medwin’s doing. He’s taken the people’s power away and used it for himself. Oh, ok, that explains it, because I was going to point out my earlier speculation that incarceration would have been a breeze.
Jessica comments that even though the sun’s out, it’s cold, and Dorin says even the weather obeys Medwin. Jessica grasps the gravity of the situation and suggests that they skip the fight, and he come back to Sweet Valley with her. Teachers and homework suck, but there are no fisticuffs with evil wizards.
Still, the more Jessica imagined taking Dorin back to Sweet Valley with her, the more excited she became. She could just see the Unicorns’ faces when she introduced her very own personal prince. Maybe he could even stay with the Wakefields. Steven could go away and live with one of his friends, and Dorin could have his room.
Even Jessica is sick of Steven’s perving, apparently. She says that Dorin can live with them, she’s sure her parents wouldn’t mind, especially since he’s so polite compared to Steven. Then she realises that she actually misses Steven’s knicker sniffing teasing. She adds that maybe they can just sneak past Medwin to the Labyrinth.
Dorin takes her hand and says he knows she’s scared, she asks if he is, and he says of course, but it’s his responsibility to save the people, even Merelantha said that he needed thwarting. Jessica sees this is true, but Dorin says that it’s not Jessica’s fight, so he will do his best to get her to the Labyrinth. Jessica feels torn. She desperately wants to go home with Elizabeth, but would feel like a traitor if she just left Dorin alone to fight.
They make their way to the castle, and the road starts to fill up with guests. Jessica magics up a hat to hide Dorin’s face. There’s a carnival near the castle gate, but nobody’s enjoying themselves. They’re just doing what people do at a carnival with no joy.
“I haven’t seen people this bored since Ellen Riteman’s birthday party,” Jessica commented.
Poor Ellen. I still love you. (Also, Jamie, thank you for mentioning my favourite Unicorn.)
Jessica sees some well-dressed people actually enjoying themselves, and Dorin explains that they’re nobles who have decided to side with Medwin because it’s hard to resist him, others may have had their families taken hostage.
She notices that anyone who is well-dressed is not name-checked at the gate and says she’ll whip up some great costumes for them and they can breeze right past security. Dorin is doubtful, but Jessica points out that today’s outfit (jeans and a purple wool sweater, presumably great-looking) is both stylish and comfortable, because she’s gotten better at magic.
OMG, clothing porn. The clothing porn usually happens in Sweet Valley High (all SVH clothing porn sounds horrible, thanks to the 80s), unless Jessica is trying a new look, so this is quite exciting.
Her gown was magnificent. It was made of deep purple satin, and adorned with sequins and ostrich feathers. With a little more effort, Jessica was able to conjure up matching shoes and a flamboyant feather wrap that fluffed up around her neck and half hid her face. Her hair was caught up in an elaborate twist, held in place by a dazzling diamond tiara. She checked the pocket of her dress and was relieved to find that the emerald key was there, just as she’d intended.
She closed her eyes again, concentrating very carefully on a costume for Dorin. After a few minutes, she opened her eyes to see him dressed in a fabulous blue uniform, festooned with gold braid and covered with medals. On his head was a plumed hat with a brim that helped to shield his face from view.
Jessica, you actually rock. #BestJess
They try to act confident and happy as they breeze past the guards, but the guards call for them to stop, and two spears are lowered in their path.
Back with Elizabeth, things are getting hairy in the tornado. Elizabeth has managed to keep hold of her leaf, but she’s lost Adair. She briefly glimpses him from time to time, but they’re both spinning too fast to do anything about it. Then her leaf is ripped away from her, and she plummets several feet before being dragged back into the tornado’s tunnel. This happens several times (think the car and tree scene from Jurassic park), before she’s thrown completely out of the tornado and starts falling to her death.
Inches from the ground, she is stopped when someone grabs her ankle, it’s Adair. Thankfully, the weight and momentum of Elizabeth doesn’t drag them both to a splatty death, nor does her abrupt stop break her knee or ankle, or actually cause any injury at all. That’s lucky. [Raven: Dead. I’m sorry, but fucking dead. Dead dead dead dead dead.] [Dove: If only…]
Once she’s on the ground safely, she yells she’ll never do anything so stupid ever again, which might actually be true. All the other things she does later in life are a bit less stupid, but still not very bright.
Adair bitches that his outfit is ruined from the tornado, and Elizabeth says she’s too shaky to do magic, so suck it. Also, it makes a good peasant outfit. Does it though? I thought the doll’s clothes were princely and ornate, and now they are torn. That’s just a ruined fancy outfit. Actual poor people have well-worn clothes in dull colours without any fancy foofery, because it’s not practical to farm fields looking like the result of a peacock banging a glitterball.
Elizabeth notices the ugly setting they’re in, and how distressed everyone looks. Adair is just as angry as his brother and saying much the same – that it used to be beautiful and joyous around the castle. He adds that you can tell Medwin has taken their magic by the way they’re dressed.
“Are you telling me that you want to defeat Medwin because he’s responsible for people dressing poorly?” Elizabeth demanded.
“I’m not quite that superficial,” Adair answered, rolling his eyes. “The fact that they’re poorly dressed is just a symptom. Obviously the real problem is much, much worse than that.”
Elizabeth says she hopes she can help him fix everything, because that’s how she rolls, but Adair says the best thing would to be to send her to the labyrinth and get her away safely before everything kicks off. She says no, she wants to help, but he points out that she and Jessica really shouldn’t be caught between the princes and Medwin, and if the good guys lose, Medwin will not be kind to them.
Elizabeth notices an old man staring at them. The man approaches and calls Adair “my prince”. Adair tells him to keep it down, and the man introduces himself as Garlen (these names are so VC Andrews), and Adair recognises him as the man who supervised the servants (the butler?) during the reign of the twins and their father before them. [Raven: I think that Garlen is described as having clothes that were once fine and regal but are now tattered? So, like Adair’s “peasant outfit.” I saw the peasants being basically nobles brought low by Medwin’s rule, not actual Hidden Kingdom serfs. Because who the fuck will bother farming turnips if you can just magic up a tiramasu every time you need one?]
Adair brings Garlen up to speed on everything, and Garlen says they haven’t seen someone from the Other Land for many generations, and they believe that the Hidden Kingdom has been forgotten. Once many knights came through and killed serpasaurs, but called them dragons. Elizabeth confirms this is all considered fairy tales now.
Garlen says that the gate to the Labyrinth has been locked, because Medwin’s doing a flounce worthy of the average Sims custom content creator. If he can’t get past the Guardian, nobody else can even try. He’s fascinated by our world, but can’t get there. Elizabeth, the “smart one”, asks why he doesn’t just use the same spell he used on the princes. Uh, duh, because then he’d be a fucking doll, you halfwit. Galen says the same thing, but more politely.
Then we waste a half a page while Elizabeth literally questions every single nuance of the very straightforward sentence “the gate is locked”. At the end of this page, we are well aware that unless they have a key, they can’t get through.
Galen says that the wise ones had a key each: Merelantha, Toramon and Medwin. Adair says it’s simple, he’ll just beat the snot out of Medwin and take his key.
Elizabeth opens her mouth to blurt that she has a key, then remembers she was told to keep it secret. Then she realises that if Toramon can see the future, so that’s why he gave the key, but maybe there’s a reason why she needs to be present at the battle, and that’s why he told her to keep it secret. I wish the twins had been reversed here. I’d love for Elizabeth to simply be told, “No, you’re not necessary for the battle, it’s just that if the boys fail, at least you’ll have an out,” like Jessica.
People are giving Adair the side-eye as they walk past, so Garlen gives him his hat to better hide his face. Oh, so the dim one remembered to magic up a hat to hide her prince’s face, but the smart one was too busy imagining her self-importance in the battle to do so. Seems about right.
They manage to get through the gate by helping to push a cart. It tries to be interesting and tense, but I don’t care, I want to go back to Jessica and Dorin.
It turns out that the guards have stopped them because their costumes are so very different from everyone else’s, and they want to know what they mean. Jessica awesomely schools them – copying Lila’s snotty tone for added authenticity – on how great their clothes are: hers is a copy of her favourite actress’s outfit for the Academy Awards (and she adds that everyone who called it “gaudy” was just a hater), and Dorin’s is an exact replica of Lance Bogart’s outfit on Days of Turmoil when he had to sneak into the Mordovian Embassy. She’s very scornful when this doesn’t clarify things at all. Then she takes Dorin’s arm and sweeps grandly past them, while the guards agree that nobles talk absolute bollocks. #BestJess
No, wait, this is #BestJess.
“All we have to do now is find Elizabeth. I’ll bet she’s here right now, disguised as a noble, just like us.” She surveyed the courtyard hopefully. “She should be easy to spot. Just look for someone in a boring costume.”
There are rooms set aside for the guests, and Jessica says she wants to look her best for the party. He says she’s not staying for the party, and nobody’s going to enjoy it anyway. He leads her through a maze of hallways to the gate of the Labyrinth and Dorin is shocked that the gate is locked. He also knows about the three wise ones having keys, and Jessica realises that this is why Merelantha gave it to her. She notes that it’s not in her nature to do as she’s told, but she also notes that you don’t want to fuck with the mermanons, so she keeps quiet and says it looks like they’re going to the party after all. Dorin notes she’s just like Adair.
They hear guards walking down the tunnel, Dorin starts blathering about five different feeble plans, so Jessica wraps her arms around him and gives him a big kiss. They guards break them up, and Jessica cries, “I told you someone would see us!”
Wait. Has Jessica had her first kiss yet? I know we’ve discounted Josh Angler, because he kissed her and she didn’t kiss back, but has she had a kiss with Aaron yet? Ok, I’ve just had a chat with Raven and he says the attempted kiss in The Big Party Weekend actually went ahead. So this is not another of Jessica’s first kisses.
[Wing: BUT IT IS ADORABLE. I love this trope, and I was surprised and delighted to see it here.]
After they run off and find somewhere to catch their breath, Dorin says moments ago he had wanted her to meet Adair because they’re so similar, but now he hopes they won’t have too much in common. Jessica reassures him that opposites attract. [Raven: “I take, two steps forward, I take two steps back.”]
(Which is kind of gross, when you realise that Dorin is just a male and unrelated version of Elizabeth. One that I don’t want to punch, admittedly, but Elizabeth, nonetheless.)
Back with Trump and Boring, Elizabeth says that something twigged as familiar about a woman she spotted from afar, or maybe it was the gown she was wearing, but she can’t figure it out.
They’re still pushing the cart and end up in the kitchen where an “enormously fat man” is the head cook – how that works here, is he tastes a dish, and then magics up enough for the party. Elizabeth, the smart one, can’t process this. How can he be cooking without pots and pans? Oooh, it’s magic.
She’s massively dim in this, and I’d let it go on any other character, but the entire series constantly goes on about how smart she is, and even the start of this book had her giving Jessica a story she wrote herself, so it’s odd that they make her, rather than Jessica, question every single thing, no matter how self-explanatory.
On reflection, Jessica is probably far more creative than Elizabeth. She’s the one who is good at art, she’s the one who goes through fashion, singing, dancing, acting, design, etc. phases. And Elizabeth just writes about what happened to her. Sixers articles, a story about their childhood birthday… has Elizabeth even attempted actual fiction? I’m not saying that people who write non-fiction don’t have talent, I’m just saying that Elizabeth Wakefield specifically doesn’t appear to have much imagination.
(And why should she? She doesn’t need to write a world to control everything. She just forces everyone to do what Saint Wakefield thinks is right.)
So it’s a bit awkward that the story now requires her to magic up some server outfits for herself and Adair so they can blend in. And after much exhaustion, Elizabeth manages to produce two “rough copies”. Still, Adair is proud of her work, and gives her a quick kiss on the lips. Then he says that when she walks into the Labyrinth, he’ll be every sad to see her go. Elizabeth thinks to herself that even though she can’t wait to see Jessica and go home, she’ll “miss Adair terribly.” I can personally guarantee that after the last sentence in this book, Elizabeth never thinks of Adair ever again.
(Unless fanfic. If there is fanfic, point me there.)
Oh, hey, the party is at Hogwarts:
At her first sight of the ballroom, Elizabeth almost did drop her platter. She had never seen such a huge room. The walls were lined with gigantic columns, carved out of marble and decorated with gold. The marble floor was as shiny as glass. On the vaulted ceiling was a tremendous painting of a brilliant blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. It looked so real that Elizabeth wasn’t sure there really was a ceiling overhead—until she remembered the cold, gray sky outside.
When Medwin enters the room, the temperature literally drops to the point where people can see their breath. He is a small, stooped man in a black robe with grey hair that drags along the ground. And if the temperature drop and black robe – not to mention the preceding ten chapters – wasn’t a big enough hint that he’s evil, he literally uses a servant’s back as a step-stool to the throne.
Elizabeth sees that Adair is in a blazing fury about this – she actually doesn’t react at all – and they move closer to the throne. Medwin says “Welcome back.”
And now much the same scene from Jessica’s point of view. Though she actually reacts in shock to Medwin stepping on another human.
At this point, I feel there’s going to be a lot of head-hopping and reactions to the same thing, so I’m just going to report the action as it happens.
Medwin is every cliché that ever clichéd, spouting things like, “Too bad you came all the way back—only to die!” every few lines. And there’s a magical duel where Medwin throws spears and other sharp things at Adair and he stops them, which drains Adair, but doesn’t seem to phase Medwin.
Elizabeth yells to LEAVE BRITNEY ADAIR ALONE! (And Jessica calls Elizabeth’s name in response.) So Medwin chucks a boulder at her and freezes her in place. Adair uses his magic to stop it from crushing her, but he’s also holding an axe away from himself, so he’s knackered.
Um. If Jessica’s there, why isn’t Dorin charging in? Actually, why aren’t Jessica and Elizabeth trying to use magic to take the pressure off Adair. Generally, why is Adair the only one fighting? Is Dorin hoping he’ll be killed in battle so he can rule alone?
Dorin finally steps up and fires a lightning bolt at Medwin, which is easily dealt with. Medwin continues to cliché by reminding everyone of what’s going to save the good guys by the end of the chapter.
“Ah, of course. How could I have forgotten Prince Dorin?” Medwin said. “That’s how I wrote the rhyme, isn’t it? You both had to be freed at the same time. After all, I always obey the rules of my profession.” Medwin gave an evil laugh. “That is, of course, the first rule of magic: Every spell must have an escape, and every escape must contain a greater mystery still. But even the studious Prince Dorin hasn’t yet learned, has he?”
For those that have slept since the opening of this book, the original riddle’s answer was “pairs”. And we have a set of twins that can’t beat a wizard by themselves. Can anyone see where this is going?
If you guessed “three pages of angst before Saint Elizabeth figures it out and saves the day”, then 10 points to whichever house you’re in. (And if you’re @buffywatcher23, then buy yourself some stickers too.)
Actually it really drags it out, because she knows the answer is pairs, but she’s not sure what the second answer to the riddle is. Jessica has to point out that stuff that comes in pairs usually works best in pairs, but then tails off when she realises that dolls work just fine on their own. But that’s when Elizabeth gets smart. She figures out the princes will work better together.
Once the boys team up, Medwin starts to fade, and guests remark they can feel that their magic is returning.
Then all the things that Medwin was throwing at them all vanish, and so does Medwin. So, he’s escaped, but at least everyone’s not dead, although the princes collapse in exhaustion straight after. I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded if Elizabeth got squashed by a boulder.
The next morning shit is getting organised already. Garlen is back in charge of the castle, the prisoners have been set free, and the princes slept through the night. The whole world is grateful to the Wakefields (default setting) because if they hadn’t solved the riddle, the boys would have died.
Jessica goes to visit Dorin and finds him looking over papers. He has a lot to do now he has his kingdom back. She tells him he should be resting. He says he’d rather spend time with her.
She says it’s great being with Elizabeth again (ordinarily I’d say “show, don’t tell”, but I don’t actually want to see twee twinny shit in this magic world, do that elsewhere), but they’re already a bit bored by themselves.
Jessica nodded. “It’s been so great being with Elizabeth again. But we were getting a little bored just hanging out in our rooms,” she admitted. “In my world we have more things to entertain us. You know—TV and chores and Unicorn meetings, that kind of thing. I thought about conjuring up a television set, but then I’d also have to imagine the programs to go with it, and how could I do that? I mean, I have no idea what’s going to happen on the next episode of Days of Turmoil.”
I love the fact that these are “best friends”, but not to the point that they can entertain each other without TV as an option.
She says she wishes she could take him home and show him off to her friends. He asks if he’s too studious and serious for them. Jessica replies that his smarts definitely saved them with Merelantha, and she likes him just the way he is. He returns the compliment, and says she won’t be going into the Labyrinth for a long time, as they don’t have a key. For a moment she thinks about telling him about the key, but she worries he’d get right out of bed and go for round two with Medwin, and he’s still so weak. Before she can make a decision, he says she could stay. Elizabeth could go home and tell everyone she’s ok – do that, Jessica! Do that! You’re being #BestJess, and Elizabeth is doing my head in. Just separate and live in this magical land with a nice prince (and his asshat brother).
She’s sorely tempted, but the Hidden Kingdom isn’t home. He says he’d hate to lose her, and she says it’s the same for her.
[Wing: Here’s the thing! Early on, Adair tells Elizabeth that even though time passes so different between the two worlds, going through the Labyrinth can put them back at the same moment they left, which feels a lot like a Narnia moment, so: Jessica! Stay in the Hidden Kingdom! Grow up and marry the prince and have all sorts of adventures with the unicorns. When you’re old and dying, go through the Labyrinth and live yet another life back in Sweet Valley. Not as terrible as the Narnia version because she would have chosen to go back and relive her life, and it gives her quite literally the best of both worlds.] [Raven: Does it specify that they return at the exact time they left at the exact age they left? Because if not, her being a purple-clad pensioner in sixth grade will reflect very badly on the Unicorns.] [Dove: Well, that’s two stories I want to read!]
Over in Adair’s room, Adair is being a brat, he wants to get up and find Medwin, and they have much the same conversation as their twins.
Then we move over to the Wakefield twins, who are reaping the benefit of being beloved by magical people instead of muggles. Every few seconds a new dress appears in Jessica’s room and a new book in Elizabeth’s. The nobles have heard how much they like these things and keep sending them as a thank you.
Again, I could see this backfiring. What if I decide that I actually liked it when Medwin was rocking the tyrannical overlord thing, and I decided to wish for a fleet of hungry velociraptors to be found in Elizabeth’s room? [Wing: Yes please.] (I might be wishing that right now, but that’s irrelevant.)
They recap the situation with their princes – this is getting tedious. I’m sure it’s not as eye-poking when you read it without recapping, but when you read a prince and a Wakefield discuss the prince’s health, then move to the next room to read about the other twins, and then the Wakefields get together to discuss the same thing you’ve read twice in a row already, and you have to write it down three times, that’s six times you’ve parsed the same data.
THE PRINCES ARE FUCKING TIRED, OK?
Then we get new information. Everyone thinks Medwin ran through the gate to the Labyrinth, but won’t be able to get past the Guardian, so he’s stuck. Then the twins say they’re homesick. Elizabeth comments that she tried to imagine her mom’s blueberry pancakes, and it wasn’t the same. Huh. You managed it on your first day in the Hidden Kingdom, Elizabeth.
Then we get confirmation that the twins know about each other’s keys. Then they rehash the “you could stay” conversation they each had. You know what? Instead of showing me one conversation three times, you could show me the conversation that happened off-screen when the twins admitted they had a key to the Labyrinth.
The twins decide that tonight they have to go home, because if they stay too long it will get really hard to leave.
That afternoon, the twins go for a ride on unicorns. Elizabeth says she could miss the mermanons, but not unicorns. They chat about their adventures, and Elizabeth comments it was good that she and Adair paired up, because Adair would have been hopeless with Jessica, and she and Jessica would have fought the whole time.
Jessica feels a bit defensive and says she’s sure she and Elizabeth would have gotten along, provided Elizabeth wasn’t “too bossy or rigid”, and Elizabeth talks right over her and wants to know what she means by “rigid”. Well, Elizabeth, I’d say that one example of being rigid is being so convinced that you’re absolutely perfect that when you don’t like your twin’s word-choice, you shout over her.
Jessica doesn’t rise to the shouting though, and just shrugs and says that it’s just the way Elizabeth is sometimes, and she’s sure they’d have gotten along.
Elizabeth hits back by saying sure they would, as long as Jessica wasn’t too impetuous.
It’s been building for awhile, but I’m sure this Jamie does not like Elizabeth. Jessica has been #BestJess for so much of this book, and Elizabeth has been a half-witted ball of snot with a superiority complex.
Also building is the fight between the twins. And after a few more sentences where they hate each other’s character traits, Jessica brings up the Christmas presents, saying she put so much care and thought into that gift. Elizabeth says actually, no, it was selfish. Jessica knew she had plans that day. The argument takes them all the way back to the castle, and as soon as they dismount the unicorns bolt off, because they are too good for this bratty shit.
They rage all the way back to Elizabeth’s room, where she snaps at Jessica to go back to her own room. And Jessica disappears – SEE! This is what I’ve been so worried about. That your wish could override someone’s personal autonomy.
So, let’s say Sally wishes to wear jeans and a t-shirt, but her “friend”, Bob, wishes she was naked, so Bob’s wish overrides Sally’s?
Jessica comes storming back in, raging that Elizabeth “zapped” her. Elizabeth says she didn’t, and calls Jessica a liar.
Gosh, aren’t you glad I used that example about Bob and Sally?
Next, Jessica makes a book smack Elizabeth around the head.
So, to carry on with Bob and Sally, she could try to defend herself, but things like that escalate. This world just got really dark.
Elizabeth realises that they shouldn’t fight in the Hidden Kingdom when they have magic at their disposal, and suggests they table their argument until they get home. After a few bitchy remarks on both sides, they separate, and will stay separated until it’s time to head to the Labyrinth.
After Jessica leaves, Elizabeth creates a book and leaves a letter for Adair, saying she knows he’s not a fan of reading (good god, this girl will never learn, will she?) but it’s the story of her family tree… holy shit, she bought a boy who doesn’t like to read a Sweet Valley Saga? What the fuck, Elizabeth?
Hey everyone I know, next Christmas, I’m going to get you a bunch of Gen 1 My Little Ponies. I know you’re not into them, but I figure if I just keep giving them to you, you’ll bend to my will. If you pull the same shit with me, I will never speak to you again.
She goes to Jessica’s room, where she’s made a picture of herself, and she signs it with love.
The twins head down to the Labyrinth and Jessica offers to use her key. Elizabeth immediately snaps that why should they use Jessica’s key. While they argue over whose key is more important, Jessica jumps forward and uses hers.
They head into a long tunnel, and finally come to a beautiful garden filled with roses. There is a cottage at the end of it with two doors at opposite ends.
They both find it creepy, and then they realise that every single rose is identical – and it’s familiar. Jessica places it, they’re identical to the carved wooden rose their family has had for generations.
And then Medwin appears to sulk that he can’t get past the Guardian, so he won’t let them through either. He’s a petulant asshole, isn’t he? He tries to burn them alive, but his flames don’t touch them while they’re in the garden. Medwin gloats that when they fail to get past the Guardian, they’ll be thrown out and he will toast those twig bitches like marshmallows. Yes, I did just arrogantly quote my own fanfic. So would you if you had to recap something twice as long as the usual fare, and everything happened three times, and you really just wanted to play The Sims 4.
The twins move to different doors at the cottage, and Jessica feels like she’s sleepwalking, she has no control over her body, so we can assume it’s the same for Elizabeth.
The Guardian chooses their ancestors, Samantha and Amanda, to be its avatar – Elizabeth gets Samantha, Jessica gets Amanda, to continue the dead horse of a twin-but-different trope.
They are both asked the same question: What is the most important gift you have ever received?
The twins ponder this for a moment, then remember each other’s excitement when they handed over this year’s Christmas gift. So that’s the answer they give.
And they’re thrown out of the cottage. The garden starts to shrink and Medwin is positively gleeful about it, especially since he’s firing a blowtorch at them. He says he won’t kill them, as they’re his only form of entertainment (again, squickful thoughts about the creepy magic in this world), and he wants to hear them beg for mercy (even more squickful).
As the twins face their doom, they make up and say they love each other. And then Elizabeth has a revelation.
They braced for the final moment, closing their eyes tightly. Then suddenly Elizabeth’s eyes flew open. “The rhyme!” she cried. “Jessica, the rhyme! There’s a third answer. Remember? Add a good rhyme and escape one last time.”
Jessica suggests “a pair of asprin” for the final rhyme – they usually come in pairs too. *snorts* I’m tired. I’m not laughing. Sweet Valley Twins did not just make me chuckle out loud.
Medwin actually pauses in his attempted murder to argue that asprin isn’t a word.
Elizabeth gives her a “nice try” for this, which is actually quite nice of her. I’d have expected Elizabeth to be a dick about it. As the fire approaches, they are hit by inspiration at the same time. They realise that the greatest gift wasn’t from their twin, it was their twin. (Guys, if that’s true, your lives suck.)
Wheels on a cart,
Unite all these things:
Eyes, feet, and wings.
Scissors and socks,
Hands found on clocks.
My very own twin.”
Medwin says “SCREW THE RULES, I KILL YOU NOW!” And I’m kind of into it. Or at least take out Elizabeth. But no! The other set of twins (the princes, not the avatars) arrive to save the day. They team up to condemn Medwin to the same fate he condemned them to. [Raven: Medwin is actually a badass. Genuinely scary at times.]
When he disappears, Samantha and Amanda beckon the Wakefields back into the cottage.
The princes beg them to stay, and Adair says he’ll read the book Elizabeth left him over and over (STOP ENABLING HER BULLSHIT), and Dorin says he’ll keep Jessica’s picture by his bed (*salacious wink*), but the twins have to go. They give the keys back to the boys, and then the Wakefields feel something in their arms – they have new harlequin dolls.
And then they’re home. Well, they’re outside their home on Calico Drive. Ned appears at the front door and yells at them to get inside, it’s 3am. The twins are delighted to see him, and don’t even care this is the most furious Ned has ever looked.
But apparently the twins haven’t been missing for months, so I guess that “time moves differently here” plot point was forgotten. That’s a shame, it would make an interesting story. I knew they wouldn’t fuck with the status quo, so it shouldn’t have been brought up at all. [Wing: I can’t believe I’m defending this ridiculousness, but they did address it. See above.]
The twins sleep late the next day, and when they are awake, Elizabeth comes in to Jessica’s room and asks if she had a weird dream. Then Steven barges in and says he’s solved the riddle. He picks up a doll and looks at the medallion and then says that the riddle has changed.
“A place far away,
Where unicorns play,
Where a mermanon dives,
And magic survives.
Two princes the same,
Each with his own name.
Say both names together,
And return here forever.”
Well, that guarantees that they’ll either arrive on their deathbeds or not at all. Forever’s a really long time to commit to, especially for a three-day holiday romance you had when you were twelve.
[Wing: They’ll go back and live more lives there and I want all the stories about the mermanons.]
Over breakfast – wait, it said they slept late. I would class “late” as missing breakfast – everyone is very smug that the twins have made up, and Grandma Robertson says she bets the story of Samantha and Amanda did the trick.
The twins excuse themselves to do something important. Half an hour later, Elizabeth walks into Jessica’s room to find her sobbing over her story. Elizabeth thinks it’s so bad that she’s really offended Jessica, but it just turns out that Jessica has feelings after all, and this story just kicked her really hard in them, in a good way. Jessica says she realises that her present is rubbish in comparison. Elizabeth says that if that’s the case, why has she spent the morning calling the Sixers staff to cancel their meeting? Hint: it’s so she can go see the “concert of the year with my very best friend in the entire world”.
Then Lila rocks up. She notes Jessica’s sniffles and red eyes, and says she knows how Jessica feels. She’s been crying all night over shit presents too. She got nothing she wanted, and to add insult to injury, someone got her a hideous doll. It was under the tree and without a tag. Her dad swears he didn’t buy it. When she brings out the doll they all agree it’s hideous.
“Does he have a name?” Elizabeth asked.
Lila shrugged. “It’s not like I care, really, but this one name keeps floating around in my head—”
“Medwin,” the twins said together.
Lila is a bit thrown by that. And then she adds there’s a pendant with a rhyme on it.
“As a doll he’s been set.
Free him now? Not just yet.
He lived none too well,
To escape a dread spell,
But all in good time,
You’ll find a true rhyme
To send him back to his kingdom.”
Lila says she guesses she has to rhyme something with kingdom to solve the puzzle. Jessica says don’t bust your brain over it, it probably isn’t worth it, and Elizabeth agrees. Lila gets weirded out by how they keep agreeing and finishing each other’s sentences, and decides they need to get out more.
Elizabeth says maybe so, and she knows just where they could go. [Raven: So it’s all actually real? For fuck’s sake.]
So, that was a thing. It was a massive break from the norm, and on a second read, I loved it. The part near the end did get tiresome, when you got the same information three times, but thankfully that was relatively short-lived.
Leaf-sailing. Unicorns. Mermaids Mermanons. Everything about this is just fun. And it really helped that I read this Jamie as having a rather low opinion of Elizabeth.
That last line bugs me though. Elizabeth says she knows where they can go to have fun, and cheerfully ignores that it’s forever. It’s not like you can pop back for tea and biscuits.
[Wing: I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this. It’s shallow and filled with common fantasy tropes and ridiculous wish-fulfillment in a lot of ways, but it had some kick ass moments (LEAF. SAILING. MERMANONS.) and a fun adventure.]
[Raven: While it was much better than The Class Trip, I still didn’t like it much. I don’t care about the Hidden Kingdom. I care about Sweet Valley. And the fact that the whole thing was apparently real, and neither of the twins is screaming about fantasy worlds and parallel universes and other terrifying bullshit, just makes me angry. From now on, we operate in a Sweet Valley in which Lila Fowler has an enchanted procelain effigy of an evil sorcerer in her bedroom, that can be freed to wreak havoc once more through solving a mystical riddle. I mean, I know Daddy Fowler is rich, but come one now.] [Dove: And now I have #NaNoWriMo 2019 locked down…]