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Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Book Name: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Author: Barry Deutsch
Publisher(s): Harry N. Abrams
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy / Middle Grade Fantasy / Graphic Novel
Release Date: November 1, 2010

Library book swapping is almost a habit among my family. My mom has borrowed the copy of Girl Waits with Gun that I checked out last week, and I’ve been hovering over my sibling’s shoulder for Ms. Marvel. I did the same for Welcome to Night Vale and The Lunar Chronicles, and it’s a generally accepted practice by everyone. If someone checks out a book that looks interesting, everyone reads it.

Hereville - How Mirka Got Her Sword (detail)And that’s how I discovered Hereville.

The full title is Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, but it was the little description at the top of the book that really drew me in. Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl. Everything about that title fits with what I believe should exist in books, especially fantasy books. Not only is she an eleven-year-old girl in a fantasy book (and there are not nearly enough fantasy books starring eleven-year-old girls, in my opinion), but she comes from a culture that is very underrepresented in modern fantasy, whether it’s aimed at adults or younger readers. Not only does she fight trolls, but she is yet another eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who fights trolls. She is not radically different from other young girls. What she can do, just about anyone else can do.

I came to all of these conclusions just from looking at the cover of the book. When I actually began to read it, I fell even more in love.

Mirka is exactly what the book cover describes, but there’s so much more to her than that. She is right in the middle of a group of several siblings and step-siblings, and she is the perfect protagonist. She squabbles with her siblings but is willing to get into fights with older boys to protect them, chafes against her not-so-wicked stepmother, and dreams of someday fighting a dragon. She goes to school, keeps up with her homework, and tries to learn how to knit, even though she lacks the patience for it.

She also walks up to a witch’s house and picks a grape, despite this going against every rule of fairy tales that we know.

Hereville - How Mirka Got Her Sword (art 2)Of course, no fairy tale would exist if the protagonists did everything that they were supposed to do. Snow White ignores the dwarfs’ warnings and accepts gifts from a mysterious old lady who appears at her door, Cinderella doesn’t keep as close an eye on the clock as she should, and Hansel and Gretel decide eating a house made of bread is a good plan. Mirka fits solidly with these other heroines (and hero), but the difference is that she actively seeks out her destiny. When a pig begins disrupting her life, she doesn’t run to someone for help; she fights. (And I promise, that sentence will make sense when you read the book.)

But, as with so many of the other books I review for this site, the protagonist is not the only thing I love. Mirka is objectively fantastic, yes, but she is only a small part of what made me race through Hereville the way I did.

As I mentioned before, there aren’t nearly enough fantasy books out there about eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girls. Religion, when it does have its place in fantasy, tends to fill a small number of roles. In some cases, it is something to be cast aside (as in Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series) or something which exists in the real world with actual, physical gods (as in David Eddings’s Belgariad and Mallorean). In the eponymous town of Hereville, religion acts as it does in the real world. Perhaps it is real; perhaps it isn’t. Either way, it is a vital force in people’s lives. It saturates the book, becoming as much a part of the setting as the school or the forest. The best part of its portrayal is that it is complex. Mirka may struggle with all the expectations laid on her by her culture, but the night of Shabbat made up some of the most beautiful pages I have ever read.

The book also got the stepmother exactly right. She begins as a stock character that could only work well in a graphic novel (which, luckily, Hereville is), arguing with Mirka and criticizing her for dropping a stitch in her knitting. She is the sort of character we could be set up to hate, but it only takes a few pages (and some talk of dybbuks) to humanize her and turn her into the most sympathetic stepmother I have ever read.

Hereville - How Mirka Got Her Sword (art 1)

The book may be for younger readers, but I found that, even at the lofty age of twenty-two, I loved it. The story it creates is enchanting, and the digressions away from the main plot of Mirka getting her sword never feel like digressions. They feel like natural continuations of the characters, and I couldn’t imagine the story dropping any of them. Get it for the troll-fighting eleven-year-old girl in your life, and then ask whether you can borrow it. You won’t be disappointed.

(And, as I found out, there are two other books in this series, so you can prepare yourself for much more excitement!)


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