Book Reviews

Review: Jackaroo

JackarooTitle: Jackaroo
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Series: Kingdom, #1
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Publication Date: 1985
Age Recommendation: Middle School

There is much want in the kingdom and the tales of Jackaroo, the masked outlaw who helps the poor in times of trouble, are on everyone’s lips. Gwyn, the innkeeper’s lively daughter, pays little attention to the tales. But when she is stranded during a snowstorm in a cabin with the lordling Gaderian, and finds a strange garment that resembles the costume Jackaroo is said to wear, she begins to wonder…

(Summary from Goodreads)

I’ve read another one of the books in this series, Elske, a couple times. It wasn’t necessary to read the other three books in the series to understand what was going on since they’re more companion novels than direct sequels, but I figured it was time to give the other three books a try.

One thing Voigt does well with these books is to draw us into the world right away. By the end of the first chapter of Jackaroo, I was fully immersed in the world of the troubled Kingdom, as seen through the eyes of Gwyn, one of the people (commoners). The setting was, for me, the biggest strength of this book.

If the people would do that to one another, she thought, then times were worse than any she had known – if the poor were not safe from one another.

I also liked Gwyn, the main character. We get the sense right away that she’s spirited and determined, and much too big for the menial existence that’s promised her. It also seemed like she had something to prove, being a female in a world where being female is virtually worthless. Between her dissatisfaction with her limited options (getting married at seventeen or being a servant to her father and eventually brother) and her desire to prove herself, it was easy to see why she eventually does the things she does. Additionally, it became increasingly clear through the course of the novel just how alone Gwyn felt. She was a complex character, and I loved her for it.

But his words had cut her like a knife. She knew it, and she felt how different she was from–everybody else. She didn’t fit into this world, and even at home, at the Inn, she didn’t fit in any longer the way she was supposed to. She no longer suited their lives, and it worried Mother and it worried Da, and it worried Gwyn and made her cross.

I didn’t feel as strongly for the other characters, aside from Gwyn’s mother, whom I hated. Mother was spiteful and awful for no apparent reason. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if I could see any motivation, but I couldn’t. Maybe Mother hated her limited options and took it out on everyone around her? And as for the other characters, I was pretty indifferent to them. I did really like Burl, though, and the development of the relationship between Gwyn and Gaderian was nice.

There was an interesting tension in the plot, between the amount of exposition and the fact the book seemed to be moving right along. This made the book feel slow to me despite the fact that the story moved so fast. I really liked the first half, when Gwyn and Gaderian were stranded in the blizzard. The rest of it, though, was where I stopped turning pages quite so fast. I can’t put my finger on an exact reason; I just wasn’t as into the story in the second half, I guess.

I think this might be a good fit for middle school kids who read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart and liked the storybook feel and plucky heroine. Jackaroo is set in a different world, but it feels like it could easily be a past version of our world, and it has a folk story feel to it.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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