The Crystal Snowstorm by Meriol Trevor, Bethlehem Books 1997, 209 pp
Reviewed by Regina Doman
Magic. It's hard to find a children's book today that sparkles with that freshness, purity, and immediacy that we all recognize in our favorite books of days gone by. So it was with excitement that I read The Crystal Snowstorm by veteran Catholic author Meriol Trevor.
I was already familiar with Trevor from her young adult's book The Rose Round, reprinted by Bethlehem Books. In that book, Trevor shows herself a master of weaving Catholic mystical reflections with excellent storytelling, two charms hard to find today. In their quest for good children's books to print or reprint, Bethlehem Books had approached Trevor about reprinting The Rose Round. Trevor granted them permission and also invited them to publish a series of never-released tales, The Letzenstein Chronicles, that she had written some years before.
What would it be like to find out that you were the princess of an unknown country? Book one of the Chronicles starts out with this tantalizing possibility as thirteen-year-old Catherine Ayre travels to the tiny European duchy of fictional Letzenstein to meet her grandfather, the Grand Duke Edmund. Catherine is a nearsighted, ordinary little girl whose quiet life has not prepared her for the adventures that await her. From her first day in Letzenstein, events move with a sudden swirl down a path that holds revolution, adventure, romance, and mystery. In Catherine's shoes, we meet characters like the homely, gallant disinherited Prince Constant, the rightful heir to Letzenstein; the sinister Duke Julius, his cousin; and the spirited redhead Princess Yolande of Valmay, destined to marry the next Duke of the country.
The most brilliant in this cast of easily-liked characters is Rafael le Marre, Catherine's distant cousin, who ran away from his princely responsibilities as a teenager to become a wandering artist. His rascal's adventures have left him with a bad back but with no less wit and cleverness. Between Rafael and her thirteen-year-old friend Edward de Altenberg, Catherine gets herself in and out of trouble, narrowly escaping mobs, kidnapping and death in a snowstorm, not to mention becoming a pawn in the political struggles of the country.
The imaginary country of Letzenstein in 1848 is in a state of political instability. The Grand Duke's tyrannical reign is threatened by revolutionaries from neighboring France and Italy. Trevor draws a realistic portrait of a tiny European nestled between Germany and France, with an ensuing mix of culture and language.
All this make The Crystal Snowstorm a book impossible to put down. And somehow between the breathless twists of the plot, Trevor manages to draw out insights about nobility, courage, the last judgment, and the Love that moves the sun and stars. The metaphor of the title is drawn from Catherine's birthday gift from Prince Constant, a tiny castle in a crystal globe that "snows" when shook. It provides an insightful commentary on both the political situation as well as the state of Catherine's soul.
The Crystal Snowstorm is a wonderful book that gives a tantalizing beginning to new series from Bethlehem Books. My only regret was that I discovered the Crystal Snowstorm after Christmas, since it would have made a great Christmas present for more than a few young people I know.
Doman writes from Front Royal, Virginia.
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