The Bear House
The Bear House
Aster took a step back, suddenly a bit afraid of her big sister. She looked frantic, despairing. Certainly, their parents had been hard on Ursula, but this – she seemed positively desperate.
My deepest fear..., her father had written. Neither of our daughters will be chosen for the crown.
If Ursula failed to inherit Father's throne, the Lourdes' royal line would be broken. Aster was no more likely to be chosen as Major than her sister. Another family would become the House of the Hemoth Bear.
Had Ursula known their parents felt this way? Was that why she had spent the summer poking around the Bear Holding?
Alcor moaned, and Ursula turned back to the great Hemoth Bear. His massive head sniffed at the air, Ursula and the lamb pie just out of reach. They stayed like that, bear and girl, staring at each other for the longest moment.
And then Ursula took a step forward.
“Ursula,” whispered Bernadine nervously.
She was well within Alcor's reach now. The bear sniffed at the tears on her cheeks, and fear burned beneath Aster's skin as her sister placed a hand on the Hemoth's furry neck.
Aster waited for the explosion, for the earthshaking roar, for the flash of teeth. But the young bear was quiet, his muzzle brushing Ursula's face as he nosed for the pie in her hand.
Ursula brought the morsel to his mouth. Alcor chomped loudly on the savory bite, not bothered by the girl stroking his mane. But how long would the young bear put up with that?
“Ursula,” Aster breathed, holding her hand out for her sister.
Alcor's ears perked up, and Aster froze. But the bear's eyes weren't on her. They were on the open Holding door.
“What is it?” Ursula whispered to him.
Alcor's left ear twitched, listening.
And then voices rose in the night.
“What is that?” gasped Bernadine.
Ursula stepped past Aster, standing in the doorway.
Aster could hear the voices, crying out in the dark – the shouts of guards, but others, too. Many others.
Ursula closed the door, stepped back, and pulled Bernadine away with her. She turned to Aster, fear in her eyes. “The Manor is under attack.”
Headstrong and reckless, Aster Lourdes is a pampered princess who secretly dreams of one day following in her father's footsteps. Her father is the Bear Major, head of the House of the Hemoth Bear and ruler of the northern kingdoms. Known as the Death Chaser, Jasper Lourdes is a great and mighty leader. Aster's older sister Ursula is heir and is expected to succeed their father and continue their family's centuries-old legacy. But, in truth, neither of the two sisters is fit to be chosen by the Hemoth Bear to rule the Bear Highen, despite Aster's longing.
However, the Lourdes sisters' lives change in the blink of an eye when Uncle Bram's soldiers storm their home – Uncle Bram, their father's brother whom they've known and loved their entire lives. Uncle Bram is the Minor of the kingdom, and together the two brothers have long been a strong and united force. His daughter, Bernadine, has lived with Aster and Ursula for years and is like a sister to them. So neither Aster nor Bernadine can comprehend or believe what the soldiers make perfectly clear: the Major is dead. Uncle Bram has betrayed him and is seeking the throne. While Ursula is captured by their uncle's soldiers, Aster flees along with Alcor, the Hemoth Bear and High Beast of their kingdom, and Dev, Alcor's keeper. Together, they make their way to the wilderness and hope for help from the heirs of the other kingdoms. Two princes and their High Beasts respond to their urgent message. And so this handful of youngsters, each wrestling with their own feelings of guilt and grief and insecurity must quickly learn to trust each other and work together to save their now fractured and deeply-divided realm.
With an intricate mythology and political structure that is rooted in the constellations, McIsaac has created a unique and fascinating world and peopled it with an intriguing array of characters. This first book provides readers with a tantalizing glimpse into the origins of this kingdom and the history that has led to the events of this book. While Aster is the main protagonist, the narrative alternates between the points of view of a range of characters, providing a nuanced and compelling look at the events that are unfolding. The many different characters that feature prominently in the story are vividly depicted and well-developed, and each experiences their own epiphanies and growth. Even Bram, himself, while unmistakably the villain, is not without sincere motivations for his actions that help cast him in a more balanced light and that justify Bernadine's steadfast belief in her father and her deep desire to save him from himself once she realizes the truth.
By including heirs to the other kingdoms, the author also gives readers a taste of the different territories that make up this world in the hope that we will get to read more about them. Their personal stories and sufferings are carefully-crafted and expertly woven into the overarching narrative. But, ultimately, it is Aster's story of maturation that stands out most strongly as she steadfastly determines to save her mother and sister and to honour her father's memory by protecting their kingdom. She and the others together manage to thwart Uncle Bram's twisted ambitions, but her victory is especially hard-won and heartfelt. The numerous relationships upon which the story is built and which develop throughout The Bear House are realistic and complex and believable, and the friendships that are forged feel lasting and significant...as we will hopefully see in future volumes.
Lisa Doucet is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia.