Desert Isle Keeper
An Exchange of Gifts
Anne McCaffrey is known for her Dragonriders of Pern, a sci/fi-fantasy series that, for me, wore off in direct proportion to its gargantuan growth. So, it is my pleasure to award DIK status to a story that is one of most perfect novellas I’ve ever read.
Meanne is a runaway princess. Her father wants to marry her off to cement alliances and, naturally (Naturally!), she won’t have any of it. But in addition to that, she wants to practice her particular magical gift, which happens to manifest itself as a very unroyal green thumb. When we meet Meanne, she is coping badly with the practicalities of a simple cottage existence and sits herself down for a good ol’ sobfest when a boy arrives and offers to help. Taken by his waifish but winsome air, as well as his ability to mend pots, Meanne invites Wisp to stay in order to combine their strengths and eke out an existence. But it soon becomes clear that Wisp is more than he seems, and Meanne must decide if he means her harm or good.
It sounds very mysterious, but it really isn’t. Instead it is a completely lovely little story about a sheltered princess who certainly has a streak of impulsiveness, but is prepared to follow through her plan and adapt to a new life – which is more than you could say for the vast majority of so-called heroines. In the space of under 100 pages, Ms. McCaffrey delineates a fascinating new world and its magical background and introduces a heroine who admirably combines sense and spirit. Because the story is narrated wholly from Meanne’s perspective, Wisp is not quite as detailed a character as she, but is still interesting enough that I would never call him flat.
Really, if I wrote stories I’d probably use this story as a template for my future novellas. I mean, look:
- Full story arc, beginning, middle, end – check
- Smooth, fluid writing with not a word wasted – check
- Substantial character development – check
- Setting described so vividly I can see it in my mind and regurgitate it back to you if so inclined – check
- Love story – triple check
And there is no reason to lengthen it. I have rarely encountered a short story or novella that is perfect as it is, but there is this one. I always finish reading it with a sigh of contentment and a smile on my face.
The edition I have was reprinted by Roc into a beautiful little hardcover with delicate drawings that frame each page by Pat Morrissey. They1ve also reprinted some other novellas by Ms. McCaffrey and other authors in similar formats, but none even begin to approach An Exchange of Gifts in the quality department. This is a gem.