book review Pamela Dean Juniper, Gentian, and RosemaryJuniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean

I’ve read several Pamela Dean books in the past, and so I was prepared for her style; it didn’t bother me much that characters quoted too often, or that the book was long on characterization and mood but short on plot, or that the ending swooped in out of the ether when I was least expecting it. I was ready for those things to be the case, so they didn’t disappoint me. I opened the book hoping for a story like Dean’s earlier Tam Lin, full of interesting characters, with a subtle but looming sense of the supernatural.

I didn’t like Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary as much as Tam Lin, though. For starters, I didn’t feel like we got to know Gentian and her friends and family as well as we got to know Janet’s circle; I wanted to know more about these people, but I always felt a little like a spectator. Then, I couldn’t understand why Gentian liked Dominic. Hormones or no, beauty or no, any self-respecting girl would have become annoyed with him when she noticed that he almost NEVER said anything but quotes. And the annoyance would have turned to revulsion when he made racist comments about her friend Alma. I just don’t buy into Gentian’s continued fascination with him. I would have disliked him intensely. Finally, the ending is unfair to Gentian; it seems like she is punished rather than rewarded for her good deed.

I had read the relevant ballad, “Riddles Wisely Expounded,” before reading Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. I’m not sure whether that had a good or bad effect on my reading experience. On one hand, the denouement probably would have made less sense to me if I hadn’t read the ballad; on the other hand, it was a spoiler of sorts. I would certainly recommend reading the ballad after reading the book, just to make sense of things. Tam Lin contained a copy of its ballad; I wish this book did as well.

One more comment on Dominic’s quoting: Though it made him an extremely annoying character, I did like the possible implications of that move by Dean. If Dominic is in fact the mythological personage he is implied to be, it’s tantalizing to think that he is just made up of the thoughts of human beings, accumulated over the years, and has no existence outside of the human imagination. That aspect of the story will definitely stick in my mind for a long time.

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary — (1998) Young adult. Publisher: Dean’s excellent fantasy takes its inspiration from the oft-told folktale. With truly marvelous skill, Dean weaves together adolescent social and romantic fumbling, hints of magical feuds, a Nancy Drew-like mystery, urban fantasy in the manner of Charles de Lint.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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