Note: This book has also been published under the name The Tale of Gwyn.
Everyone grows up with tales of Jackaroo, who rides on behalf of the people in times of greatest need, but everyone knows they’re just stories… As the innkeeper’s daughter, Gwyn is certain of her place in the world, but being stranded during a blizzard leads to a startling discovery and Gwyn begins to see the Kingdom in a new way. When Jackaroo rides out of legends to aid the people, he will change Gwyn’s life forever.
Rating: ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre: young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, non-magical fantasy
Pros: well written, good character development, beautiful descriptive language
Cons: needs POC
Jackaroo is the first in the loosely-connected Tales of the Kingdom series. Because they are “loosely-connected” all of the Kingdom novels can be read as stand-alone books, though I’m not sure why you’d want to skip any of them. I like that this is the first book in the series though, because it’s a little lighter than the next three and therefore an easier read and the perfect introduction to the world of the Kingdom.
This book is simultaneously a fantasy adventure about a Robin Hood-esque highwayman who shows up in times of need to serve the people, and a coming-of-age story about a young girl discovering her place in the world.
As with a lot of Cynthia Voigt’s characters I really love the way Gwyn thinks about things. She’s a somewhat steady girl, hard-working and strong. In the beginning she has a tendency to be a bit scornful of those around her, but she grows into a more understanding and insightful person as the story goes on, which is just one example of the satisfying character development to be found in Jackaroo.
Voigt’s world-building is subtle and immersive in a way one rarely finds in a fantasy novel. She lays out the Kingdom at the perfect pace, so that one never has too much information to keep track of, and always enough to understand what is going on in the story. Between that and her excellent use of descriptive language, the reader is swept up into the story and world with ease.
My only complaint about these books is the lack of POC. The closest it comes is having one character mentioned with “olive skin”, which is…disappointing. It’s not super surprising that a white author doesn’t think to put people of color in their story, especially in 1985 when this story was first published, but I can still wish it was different. It’s really the only thing I can think of that would improve this beautiful story.
I recommend this book, and it’s sequels, to literally everyone — but most especially to people who like fantasy, ya fiction, and coming-of-age novels, or anyone who is trying to read more backlist books.
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