Wise Child and Juniper
by Monica Furlong
Wise Child by Monica Furlong takes place in a small Scottish village, with some magic thrown in for good measure. Personally, I really enjoy it when fantasy is grounded in a historical(ish) fiction. Wise Child (yes – that’s her name) never knew her mother, and after her father mysteriously vanishes, she goes to live with Juniper, a semi-ostracized woman living on the outskirts of town, who the townsfolk fear is a sorceress. There, although initially resistant and scared, she learns about nature, herbology, healing, and developing her innate talents for more supernatural powers. Wise Child herself is reluctant to do this and is generally spoiled and whiny at the beginning of the book. But she grows into a competent young woman who has to make some tough choices about loyalty and helps to conquer the challenges, both physical, and emotional, of living with a witch (essentially) as her guardian. A major puzzle in this book was about Juniper’s own backstory, particularly in regards to how she knew Wise Child’s father, Finbar, and from where Maeve the enchantress’s animosity towards Juniper came. Fortunately, many enlightening details were added in the prequel, Juniper.
Juniper is the prequel to Wise Child, also by Monica Furlong. The character of Juniper is introduced in Wise Child as the village herbalist/outcast/witch. But through the eyes of Wise Child, the reader sees the truth about Juniper – that she is a kind, patient, wise women who teaches Wise Child how to be doran, a powerful woman adept in natural and beneficial white magic. While Wise Child covers the story of Juniper’s pupil, Wise Child (yes- that’s still her name), the prequel, Juniper, covers Juniper’s origin story and her own experiences training to be a doran, in a unique and heroic coming-of-age story. Juniper was a substantially different girl than Wise Child. Wise Child seemed portrayed as a more selfish, and ungrateful character who actually had it pretty easy as Juniper’s student. Juniper, on the other hand, although a typical child in many ways, was a much more grounded, kind and dedicated child while her own teacher, Euny, was almost shockingly strict and harsh towards her than she later was towards Wise Child. It was especially interesting to read Juniper after Wise Child. Juniper was published a couple years after Wise Child and really allowed for some fun introspection and insight into Juniper’s character and backstory. I would definitely recommend these books, as they are so interesting and realistic. Personally, I would read Wise Child first, then Juniper, then Wise Child AGAIN for the best experience with the most depth of meaning!
Both books explore similar meanings, concepts and themes: The mother-daughter relationship, the teacher-student relationship, respect for nature, the dangers of judging based on appearance, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Ultimately, the stories are both inspiring and encouraging portrayals of young women growing into powerful women in similar, yet original ways. Their stories follow a similar structure and pattern, but they follow that pattern in unique ways specific to their own individual personalities and characteristics. I love these books because they effectively communicate that a girl can grow into a strong woman in a variety of different ways, and while the paths to get there may be in the same direction, there are many paths, and not everyone’s path is the same.