Sometimes books have to grow on you. I know that there are some people who don’t have the patience to read books that don’t hook them immediately. At times I am like that. Sometimes I will power through and sometimes I will give up to follow up on other pursuits. I almost did that with A Corner of White, the first in the Colors of Madeleine series. I’m a law student. Finals are coming up. My time is very valuable. But I powered through and I am glad that I did. Portal fiction is one of my favorite sub-genres of fantasy and I had been looking forward to A Corner of White for some time.
I am going to be honest with you all. It starts a little slow. I think I was almost 30% through my ARC ebook copy before I finally got into the groove and started to really enjoy the book. You have to give it a chance. I think it was the narration and the way it was written that first sort of made me weary but it picks up as you go along.
But anyway. I wanted to be up front about all of that before I get into the actual review.
A Corner of White introduces us to two very different narrators in two very different worlds whose different personal problems bring them together in a way that should be impossible. In our world – know as The World to those on the other side – is Madeleine. She and her mother have recently moved to Oxford from France where they had been living with her powerful, wealthy father. But Madeleine is prone to eccentrics and running away from home. Except this time her mother came with her and the two of them live as paupers in a flat where her mother sews to make a living for them. She and her friends are all home-schooled by an eccentric group of people that include Madeleine’s mother, her friends’ grandfather, and their very colorful neighbors.
Elliot, in the Kingdom of Cello, is a fifteen year old boy whose family was recently torn apart by his father’s disappearance and his uncle’s murder. Convinced that his father was taken away by the Purple that killed his father he’s been adventuring around the kingdom trying to find him. Cello is a strange place – a place with technology like our own in some places, more advanced in others, and slightly less advanced in the Farms where Elliot lives. Also, colors can kill. Waves of reds can make one crazy.
While Madeleine is eccentric, Elliot is the sort of small town Atticus Finch style hero that you find hard to believe can exist until you see them in the news. Madeleine is absorbed in herself at times and off the wall at others. Elliot is down to earth and doesn’t want the sort of attention he gets from people for helping out, playing ball, and such. They are unlikely companions. And yet a strange incident brings them together. There is a crack in the fabric of space and time between the two worlds. It is big enough only for them to slip a piece of paper to one another and so they begin in penpal relationship that should never have been able to happen.
Madeleine, of course, thinks all his stories are nothing more than elaborate fantasy told by a boy whose desperate for friends. But they work through one another’s issues together. They work through Madeleine’s relationship issues and her problems with her friends and family. When her mother becomes ill she finds she can confide in him about her and what happened with her father. Elliot in turn seeks out her help understanding and accepting the truth about what happened to his father and his concerns about the Butterfly Child. It’s a beautiful little relationship that shows that friendship an transcend almost anything – even realities.
I absolutely loved the relationship between the two kids and how it developed. I loved how Madeleine didn’t really believe Elliot and thought it was all a joke but played long. And then after a while how she eventually came to believe that Cello and Elliot were all very much real.
The two kids live in such a different worlds and the things they face are so incredibly different sometimes. But then sometimes they are very much the same. They both have issues with their families and friends. They both have challenges to overcome. Madeleine is from our world so we understand her problems a bit more and could potentially relate to her. And then we could use that as a jumping off point to relate more with Elliot.
Honestly, I liked pretty much every character in the book more than Madeleine. I didn’t find her to be a very relateable person and I would have probably liked it more if she were just a simple girl whose family was going through more normal problems. None of this being rich and running away to live as poor folks and what not. But she grows on you after a while. Her whole storyline and half of the book pales in comparisson to Elliot’s. His friends are much more interesting, the craziness of the seasons and goings on of his town – Bonfire – in the Farms are engaging, and the ambiguous nature of the colors keep you wondering just what is going on half the time.
The world building that went into Cello was incredible. It’s such a vibrant, varied, and unusual world. I just want to know more about it and I want to perhaps even see Madeleine find herself in it at some point.
The one thing I still don’t undesrtand, though, are the colors. What are they? I know that they are colors. Like, some how they are embodiments of the colors whose names they share. But some how ‘purples’ have lairs and ‘reds’ travel in waves – but not how we think of colors and waves. They are some how physical manifestations of the colors and they generally do terrible things. Purples and yellows can kill. Reds can alter one’s mind in many ways. But what I want to know is how. What are they? Are they just floating blobs of color or are they sort of like spectrums of color coming at you through flashes of sunlight…? I really don’t understand what they are and that makes it hard trying to visualize it all. Everything else in Cello is very well explained. The colors, though? Not so much.
Should you read the book? Definitely. Especially if you’re fans of portal fiction – where a person from our world interacts with or enters another world – or maybe stories like the Phantom Tollbooth and such. I think it’s definitely worth a read and it’s actually a very nice change on most fantasy settings. I love Cello and I love Elliot. I’m looking forward to seeing how he and the Kingdom are further developed in the series.