cover image The Sea King's Daughter: A Russian Legend

The Sea King's Daughter: A Russian Legend

Aaron Shepard. Atheneum Books, $17.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80759-6

Emotionally authentic prose and jewel-like illustrations that emulate pre-Raphaelite texture and ornament make this retelling of a Russian folktale an exquisite volume. In the medieval city of Novgorod the Great, Sadko, a poor musician, longs for love as he sits by the River Volkhov and plucks his 12-string gusli. His music wins him the favor of the Sea King, who invites him to visit his palace under the sea. In pale watercolors sparked with lustrous gold, the royal attendants--including mermaids, lobsters in metal armor and crabs in puffed Elizabethan-style sleeves--float across a double-page full-bleed spread or a vignette panel in spiraling curves. Spirin (Kashtanka) renders them with a mistiness that creates the sensation of opening one's eyes under water. The king insists Sadko marry his daughter Volkhova, the nymph of the river the musician loves. When Sadko learns that kissing her would separate him from his beloved homeland forever, he reluctantly forsakes Volkhova's affections and returns from whence he came. ""He wept--,"" writes Shephard (The Baker's Dozen), ""perhaps for joy, perhaps for sadness at his loss, perhaps for both."" A short afterword gives a history on Russian legends, but no facts can detract from the mood of eloquent enchantment created here. Ages 6-9. (Oct.)