I remember seeing this book around, but it was Stephanie at Views from the Tesseract writing about it that prompted me to check it out.
In a rural Wales with school buses and electricity but coal stoves, young Gwyn lives in a family shattered since the disappearance of his older sister Bethan. His father wants nothing to do with him anymore, his quiet mother mostly just tries to keep Gwyn out of the way, and he’s not too popular at school, either. But on his birthday, his grandmother Nain gives him five gifts and tells him that they are related to his magical heritage. The first thing he tries is a brooch, which turns into the beautiful snow spider whom he names Arianwen. Arianwen makes beautiful spider web tapestries – and one of them shows a girl who looks just like his sister, the age she would be. But the problem with inheriting magic that skips two or three generations before reappearing is that there’s no one to tell you how to do things right or to help you fix things if your magic starts causing problems.
This is a short, lovely fantasy with a classic feeling – I do have a weakness for Welsh fantasy! The chapters frequently end with exclamation marks to lead the reader on to the next chapter, which I found entertaining but a bit distracting. I’d originally thought that this might be good for my son to read to himself, as it’s much shorter than most of the books he’s interested in. The small type turned him off from the start, though, and I’m honestly glad he did – magic aside, this is a book about a family recovering from the death of a child. While that’s fine for lots of kids, my own son still finds plots that deal with the real emotions of this kind of loss as this one does too painful to deal with since we came so very close to losing his sister. (We were unable to read the very popular Amulet series for that reason.) The issues are handled well, though, and most children hopefully aren’t going to have that kind of reaction to the book. Otherwise, this is a wonderful transitional story for children interested in meatier but still relatively short books.