Magical mix of fairy tales and history

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

Coriander Hobie has an amazing story to tell. One evening, when the house is quiet and the city is asleep, she lights seven candles and sits down to write a true account of what happened to her when she was a teenager.

Now, years later, she is finally starting to understand the strange events that shaped her life.

She has decided it is time to tell her tale. The only title she can give her story is I, Coriander, because it is a chronicle of the mysteries that made her the person she is today. You will be astonished by what she has to say.

Our heroine was born in London in 1643. Her father was a well-off merchant, and the family lived in a fine house on the banks of the River Thames. Coriander's mother, had a beautiful garden behind the house where she grew herbs and scented flowers. She would distil these into healing potions and sweet-smelling perfumes.

But one dreadful day when Coriander is nine years old, her happy childhood is shattered. Her beloved mother unexpectedly dies and Coriander's life becomes a nightmare.

Her father is forced to remarry in order to keep his social and political position. The woman he takes as his second wife is an evil widow who sets out to victimise Coriander.

The scene is set for a classically wicked stepmother to do her worst. Soon, nasty, underhand deeds become the order of the day in Coriander's life.

The second Mrs Hobie hopes to destroy Coriander's life. This plan is made much easier when her new husband has to mysteriously leave London. Events climax quickly when Mrs H. decides to finish her stepdaughter off for good.

The wicked woman locks poor Coriander in a travelling trunk, hoping she will suffocate to death. But things don't work out quite as planned.

Instead of choking to death, Coriander is transported into another world, the true home of her beloved mother. There Coriander discovers things she can hardly believe.

Before she has time to think about what is happening, she is caught up in a string of fantastic adventures that switch between the world she knows and the world of her mother's birth.

I, Coriander is a book filled with enchantment and difference. You won't read many novels as beautifully written and as enthralling as this rich, spellbinding, new-off-the block fairy tale. Sally Gardner uses a highly visual story-telling style to weave a seductive narrative and implant it firmly in her readers' imaginations.

Although some of the plot twists would seem unlikely out of the context of this story, Coriander's story never jumps the barrier into the realms of too-far-fetched.

This is due to Sally Gardner's tight control of what is going on. She believes what is happening and does her best to make the reader believe it too.

I, Coriander is a wonderful story to listen to as well as to read. In the audio edition of the book, English stage actress Juliet Stephenson brings Coriander's adventures to life with her crystal clear narration and clever voice characterisation. Whether you listen to or read Coriander's story, it is a really magical experience.

I, Coriander

By Sally Gardner

Published by Orion

ISBN 1 84255 504 9

CD/Download Audio from Orion Audiobooks

John Millen can be contacted on