“It’s not always what happens that is the most important thing. Sometimes it’s how you tell the story.”
Partway through The Wrinkled Crown I realized I had actually read another book by Anne Nesbet awhile back, and profiled it here (The Cabinet of Earths). I was delighted to discover that this one was just as engaging and original, as well as being another Girls Underground book (in fact, it even has a chapter named “The Girl From Underground”!).
Linny, almost 12, lives in the magical “wrinkled” hills in a village called Lourka, named after a special stringed instrument – an instrument that all girls under the age of 12 are forbidden to touch. Linny, however, not only touches one, she builds her own and plays it. But when the dreaded Voices (terrifying invisible entities that are never explained, making them more disturbing) come to exact their punishment, they take Linny’s friend Sayra instead, off to an unknown land called Away. Linny decides to embark on a dangerous journey to the Plain below the wrinkled hills, where magic is regarded with suspicion and anxiety, in hopes of finding a cure to retrieve Sayra’s spirit.
She is accompanied off and on by a village boy named Elias, and the strange Half-Cat she meets in the Plain. Together they keep getting captured, “rescued” and pursued by a variety of opposing forces in a complicated political landscape that pits the logical, technology-based Plain folks of a divided city against the more natural, magical wrinkled folks. Linny alone seems to be comfortable with both ways of being – and thus, contrary to my expectations from more typical stories like this, she does not seek to have magic and nature prevail, but rather to balance both sides (a nice change of pace!).
There is no singular adversary, but rather several, some of which seem helpful at first, but all of which have their own agendas (and she does defeat them, in various ways, though not in any really satisfying final confrontation). Linny does go literally underground at one point, in a harrowing trial through labyrinthine passages, some of which almost trap her beneath the earth. She also spends some time forgetting herself and her quest when she reaches the Sea which seems to take all thought and memory away.
Along the way, Linny discovers that she resembles a legendary figure that is supposed to save their divided world. In fact, it seems she is this person precisely because her mother journeyed to the wrinkled hills in search of that girl, and in the hills, Story makes reality. When Linny finally reaches her friend Sayra, they manage to return from the distant Away by telling the story of their adventures, over and over again, including an ending that brings them home again, until it comes true. An excellent example of the Power of Story!
One thing that is mentioned several times in this book that holds true for many Girls Underground – their companions often end up suffering quite a bit due to being in their sphere of influence, even though the Girl herself does not directly harm them. It is the consequence of being caught up in an important Story, I suppose, but significant to note that it’s not all fun and adventure. Linny spends a lot of time feeling guilty that every move she makes seems to endanger a friend.
“And then there was the great bang of the front door slamming shut – and Linny, whose friends kept being swallowed by dooms of her own making, found herself horribly, awfully alone.”