Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominated for the Cybils and that would have been tragic. This book has so many elements I love to find in a fantasy story and Webb brings them all together so well.
Rose isn't like the other orphans at St Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Instead of dreaming of getting adopted by loving, wealthy parents, Rose wants to get a job and be independent. She doesn't need anyone but herself. She finds her escape working as a maid for Mr. Fountain, an alchemist. Unable to ignore the magic that flows throughout the grand residence, Rose realizes that just maybe; she might have a little bit of magic in her too. This new series featuring magicians, witches, talking cats, mist-monsters, and friendships will have young readers in a trance!
Rose is wonderful. I love how simple and practical she is. All she wants is to earn a decent living and be proud of the work she does to earn it. When she begins to show signs that she has the ability to do magic, she wants no part of it. She just wants to be a regular girl. She is a courageous and righteous though, and when children begin disappearing and she is required to use her magic to solve the mystery she jumps at the chance. Rose has an equally wonderful supporting cast backing her up, from the rest of the household servants to her master's snooty apprentice and spoiled brat daughter. She even has the help of a magical cat named Gus, who is one of the best talking animal characters ever. I am impressed by how well Webb drew all these characters. I felt like each had a distinct personality and I really knew them. It is not easy to do that in the space of a short book with such a full plot, but she did it.
The story is delightful in every way. Taking place in an alternate Victorian England, the book includes the orphan with special abilities, a magical mystery, and a truly awful villain. I enjoyed that Rose was not plucked from the orphanage because of her magic. I like that she was chosen because her "special" talent was hard work. Lucky for her she ended up in the household of the King's most trusted alchemist so she is able to learn about her powers more. The villain's goal is not a surprising one, but the methods employed to achieve it are not for the easily sickened or grossed out. I enjoyed the real sense of danger this added to the story. It kept it from being too sweet, and made the stakes higher.
This is not a long book and the language is such that readers at the younger end of the MG audience will enjoy it, and it works well for older readers too. It certainly worked perfectly for this one.