Victor’s Challenge by Pamela Freeman
Twelve years after Victor’s Quest was released, it’s being republished, along with its new sequel Victor’s Challenge. Both are spin-offs of the Floramunde trilogy, though aimed at a much younger audience — specifically those who have begun independent reading. The Victor books are geared toward six to eight year olds, though of course there’s nothing to stop anyone from reading them. Older readers should be warned though that they are very slender volumes: you’d probably finish each in about fifteen minutes.
After Victor successfully won the affection of the lovely Valerian and casually brushed aside his mother’s protests: (“She’s not a princess!” “She will be after she marries me,”) the happy couple now faces a slightly larger obstacle: Valerian’s father.
Professor Borage is not a big fan of royalty, and he demands that his future son-in-law complete the usual fairytale requirement: three challenges to test his bravery, endurance and intelligence. Though kind-hearted and honest, Victor knows he’s not the brightest bulb in the pack, and although he’s not entirely fazed by the orders to fetch the Scepter of Good Fortune from the Dragon of Nevermore and the golden armband at the top of the wizard Sintar’s Glass Mountain, he’s dreading the test of intellect.
Victor’s Challenge is thicker than its predecessor, and benefits significantly from this. There is more room to strengthen the bond between Victor and Valerian, more time to explore the world of Floramunde, and more scope for the adventuring. Sir Carruthers and the rest of the Very Large and Ferocious Bats make a return appearance, as does Quince (Victor’s very intelligent horse) and other little touches of the Floramunde trilogy, including a detail concerning Victor’s awareness that he shouldn’t look a dragon in the eye (as poor King Max found out the hard way in Windrider).
The Victor books are mainly comedic in tone; usually in quite a droll way (such as Victor’s reaction to the Maze of Bemusement:
It was a maze where the wind whistled through the cracks in the rocks and seemed to moan harsh words: words like ‘never’ and ‘fail’ and ‘hunger’ and ‘pain.’ Victor thought it was a bit gloomy.
But the real reason I like Pamela Freeman’s children’s books is that despite the comedic edge, there is a definite fairytale quality to them. This is not just in the use of the typical fairytale devices (young love, magical creatures, threefold trials) but the sense of purity in them that cuts right to the heart of what makes a worthy human being. Victor himself is a great protagonist, for as his fiancée often points out: “he has a special kind of cleverness” — and it’s the cleverness that comes from kindness and honesty. There is a beautiful scene mid-way through the book in which Victor comes across a Unicorn-Owl with a prickle in its tail. You’ve heard this one before, right? But in this case, the Owl cannot allow Victor to help him, for:
No matter how careful you were, it would still hurt. The touch of humans burns us. It’s the lying. All humans lie and lies burn green and white hot on Unicorn Owls.
I won’t give away what comes out of this meeting, but it definitely gave me the warm-fuzzies! There is a sweetness and sincerity to these books that isn’t at all saccharine, but for the few minutes you’re reading them, you can certainly believe in a place where love conquers all, kindness is rewarded, and nobody’s really that bad deep down.
Floramonde — (1996-2009) Ages 9-12. From Author’s Website: When Betony was a baby, the court wizard made a prophecy: she will be friends with strange creatures; she will face danger many times; she will find love in unexpected places; and she will become a great queen. Betony is brought up to be a proper princess, but she hates all the fuss about dancing, embroidery and the right way to talk to a viscount. She’d rather work in the garden or explore the world outside the palace. So she runs away, and through her adventures she discovers that it takes courage and the help of good friends — including a certain gardener’s boy — to find her true path in life.
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