Reviews: Hereville – swords, trolls, witches, and Mirka….
Hereville Book 1: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Hereville Book 2: How Mirka Met A Meteorite
Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons!
There you go, a nice summary of both books, and the tone perfectly set with that brilliant and funny strap-line “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl“.
This turned out to be such a magnificent surprise. It has all the readability of something like Smile or Bone, that easy-going truly all-ages thing that comics seem to be managing so well these days. But the Jewish cultural aspects also make it interesting and even educational. And yes, perhaps book one is that little better than book two in all honesty, but that’s merely down to the originality of the idea, fresh and new, and they are genuinely both thoroughly engaging works of fiction.
Essentially it’s very well done mix of fantasy and everyday drama and all done in winning style by Deutsch.
The heroine Mirka lives in the very orthodox Hereville, a place where everyone speaks Yiddish, all orthodox rules are followed, the Shabbos is followed strictly, and the girls are being preped for motherhood and their roles as good wife.
Mirka is just that little different though; more the tom-boy type, full of ideas about the world not necessarily limited to the confines of her faith or her religion’s limitations. She can stand up for her brother against the bullies, and she can argue with her whip-smart step-mom for as long as step-mom decides to let it go on for…..
In fact, had Hereville simply been a tale of Mirka struggling with her Jewish heritage that would have been quite enough for me. Deutsch does an excellent job of keeping the information entertaining and the entertainment informed and educational throughout. I learned a lot of Jewish culture from Hereville, and reckon anyone else, whatever their age, would feel the same.
But Hereville happens to be far more than a simple tale of Mirka and her Jewishness. The fantasy fairy-tale comes through very early on, integrated seamlessly with the cultural reportage, like this, page 14….
Yep, that’s the witch. And that should give you an idea of where this is going. And it goes there in fine, fine style. There’s the whole Mirka being chased by a pig thing. But Mirka being an isolated orthodox Jew has no idea that this is JUST a pig, and starts getting worked up about the hideous monster that has it in for her. That’s funny on many levels.
Of course, the fact that the pig belongs to the witch, who knows Mirka nabbed one of her grapes, and the pig DOES actually intend to cause Mirka as much trouble as possible merely adds to the fun.
So, onwards to witchy driven adventure, a sword needs obtaining from a local troll, and somehow yet also quite naturally somehow we have a knitting duel. Yes, knitting duel.
Surreal brilliance yet seems so normal. Great, great storytelling going on. Lovely artistic style as well, nothing overly showy, just good craft telling a fun story.
So, I get through volume 1, and plow into volume 2 with enthusiasm and gusto. But this second book never really quite manages the highs of the first. Much of that is down to a direct comparison with volume 1, made worse by reading them together.
Volume 2 certainly entertains, and Mirka is undoubtedly an excellent character, it’s simply that the pattern of plotting seems too similar to really make it work reading them this close together. Still, you can say the same of Harry Potter, or of any stop/start adventure series.
In this second volume we get to see Mirka not exactly enjoying her new role as dragonslayer, as she has to hide her sword away with the troll for safe keeping. But trolls are, by their nature, difficult things to deal with and a simple slip of the tongue from Mirka sets in motion events which leads to a magically altered meteor making Mirka’s life a misery.
The meteor is transformed into Metty, a complete doppelganger of Mirka, just better, neater, cleverer….
Again, the resolution makes sterling use of reason and friendship over violence, and the ending is cleverly played out. Good, but not quite as good as before.
However, taken as a pair of books, these Hereville tales are quite the thing; enjoyable, entertaining, a wonderfully realised heroine, and all with a smattering of cross-culural education thrown in. A very, very good series in the making one hopes.