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Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna

Ondine The Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna

If I were to make a list of things that despite my grumpy and contrarian ways I find almost impossible to dislike, it would include the following: ferrets, Scottish accents, faux European countries, and tongue-in-cheek fairy tale re-tellings. Ondine: Summer of Shambles, Ebony McKennas debut, contains all of these thingsin some cases in clever combinationputting it instantly on my to-read list.

Following yet another woeful examination performance, fifteen-year-old Ondine de Groot decides that spending her days washing and drying dishes at her parents bed and breakfast is by far preferable to honing her admittedly limited extra-sensory skills at psychic summer school. Whilst this might seem rather a strange decision to, well, perhaps any teen who has ever existed, Ondine is quite determined that she wants out, and with scarcely a second thought she has packed her things and is on her way back home. After the stresses of psychic summer camp, Ondine is relieved that her journey home promises to be an uneventful one. At least until'the ferret stowed away in her luggage decides that this is a key point at which to begin nattering away to her at a million miles an hour. And in a charming Scottish accent (but with some rather less than charming turns of phrase), no less.

After rather a lot of chatting on the ferrets behalf, and rather a lot of listening on Ondines, it turns out that the furry little fellow is the unfortunate subject of a hex cast by a jilted prom date (Ondines great-aunt) the better part of a century ago. And so, Ondine is on a mission: to break the spell on her furry friend so that he might be returned to human form once more. But it seems that the strangeness surrounding Shambles is a portent of things to come, and Ondine is rather perturbed to find that things suddenly become quite a good deal more complex. Although Ondine and Shambles, as her smart-mouthed friend is known, do make a concerted attempt to set about breaking the spell that has trapped him in ferret form for so long, their efforts are secondary to the various other types of intrigue going on in the background: attempted regicide, frowned-upon romances that cross age and class barriers, disapproving visits from the food inspector, the discovery of a wealth (quite literally) of jewels and goodies, and Ondines rather unbidden crush on a dastardly but undeniably handsome prince.

If one were to sum up Ondine in a single word, the term that comes immediately to mind is charming. Ebony McKenna has created the sort of rich, curious world that might result from the marriage of a Miyazaki film to a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, and its rather difficult not fall rather in love with it.'Full of imposing castles, stodgy pub fare, and references to Eurovision, the fictional country of Brugel recalls something along the lines of late nineteenth-century Germany or Austria, with the odd modern-day anachronism thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the reader is given scarcely more than a taste of this world, which is a shame, as its one that piqued my curiosity.

Ondine also suffers from a distinct lack of focus in terms of plot: certain plot elements, such as the attempted regicide, are introduced vaguely, as though almost in passing, and then never really allowed to develop in a substantial manner. This is true, unfortunately, for much of the narrative, and while each plot progression in and of itself promises something fun and enjoyable, the story as a whole never really comes together in a cohesive manner. Even Ondines star-crossed romance with Shambles struggles to surface, perhaps due to the fact that its given relatively little space in the book. But lack of space is not the only culprit when it comes to undermining the plots coherence: there are certain points that just simply feel illogical or lazy, and that jar as a reader. How, for example, is it possible that one can escape so easily from a psychic camp?'Surely the psychic supervisors would be aware of such things? Moreover, the fact that Shambless ongoing ferrety state can be put down to his simply being in the habit of being a ferret seems like a narratively crude approach to take, and one that is used more for laughs than for any overall plot progression. Another rather more pressing issue is that the book feels almost abridged or abbreviated, and seems to end where it perhaps should have begun.

Still, Ondine is largely carried by its voice and humour, and despite the issues highlighted above there are some very entertaining moments. McKennas voice is simultaneously haughty and endearing, and those who enjoy archness in narrative voice, as I do, will find that this, in addition to the emphasis on humour and farce, helps balance out some of the books plot and character-related shortcomings. McKenna also takes the time to touch on some interesting themes such as family and obligation, and also looks at issues of taboo and social norms, which adds an interesting dimension to the book. However, this raises another issue, which is that of the positioning of this book as a young adult novel, which Im not entirely sure is accurate. While'Ondine does deal with some issues that fall quite firmly into YA, and the protagonist falls into the age range typical of a YA, 'the tone and plotting of Ondine both have a distinct middle grade feel. Given that books targeted at either age group tend to employ particular conventions and approaches, the genre ambivalence of Ondine means that its not entirely successful as a YA or as an MG. This is unfortunate, as I cant help but feel that Ondine may slip through the gaps as a result.

Rating: star Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKennastar Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKennastar Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKennablankstar Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKennablankstar Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna (good)

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autumn palace ebony mckenna 195x300 Review: Ondine: Summer of Shambles by Ebony McKenna

Ondine: The Autumn Palace (Forthcoming)


  1. makenzie /

    i read the first pages and then realized that thin book is horrible it is way to easy for me when i was is prep> i was reading better than this at that age. i am 11 and have read the whole twiligght saga but i i wasted 2 minutes of my life i cannot get back!!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Makenzie! Im sorry to hear you didnt enjoy this. It wasnt quite my cup of tea, but I thought it was a cute readIm curious to see how the sequel turns out. :)

  2. Elliey /

    I was wondering what genres this book would be, and also if it has a second name, like the sequel is called Ondine: The Autumn Palace.
    I would be most grateful if you could reply, Thanks
    Elliey :)

    • Stephanie /

      Hi Elliey,

      The full name is Ondine: Summer of Shambles, if that helps. Id say it falls into upper middle grade or early YA, and its a fantasy novel with a good pinch of humour.