**DISCLAIMER** I was sent this book because I was super-excited about it on Twitter.
**DOUBLE DISCLAIMER** I just realised I can embed GIFs. I’m not sorry.
Mildred’s Resistance is the prequel for Katie Cross’s YA Network series. The plot takes us back to the youth of the current High Priestess – Mildred – and explains how the actions of her generation have shaped and influenced the plots of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening. Most of the story takes place in and around Chatham Castle, the seat of power, and the people who work there. As it’s a prequel, if you’ve read Miss Mabel’s, you sort of know where it’s going. But just like when you see a documentary about events leading up to a war, or an assassination, it’s the journey and all those turning-point-moments that make it so interesting.
What I love about this story is the little touches that give depth to the characters: Evelyn is always in the middle of a drama, and serves herself the biggest slice of cake to compensate; Mildred crops her hair in order to feel like herself; half the cabinet are alcoholics… the little actions build into the big actions. The little check points along the way may leave you frustrated because it’s so clear how a character could have taken a different path but they sabotage themselves a lot.
Evelyn starts out a bit like Gwendoline Mary from the Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton. She is spoiled and treated well so she gets arrogant and obnoxious. But the tragedy of her childhood is a weakness that runs through her and drives her actions more than she thinks. Even when it’s on the surface, and she’s talking about her plans to “lead the poor” (i.e. oppress the poor), what it really comes down to is her abandonment issues. May (the grandmother of the Miss Mabel who runs the school in Bianca’s time) twists that fear for her own purposes, and gives her an outlet for it, but really, Evelyn is just a scared girl lashing out because she never grieved properly for her parents.
Mildred has a similar start in life, but since her mother doesn’t know the High Priestess, she has to go and be poor somewhere else, with her brother. The differences in the way they grow up show all too clearly how divergent your path can get dependent on tiny choices and decisions, and your own personality and drive. Mildred finds magic difficult. She has to study harder and work longer than Evelyn and Stella, and even then it’s hit or miss. But she keeps going. She doesn’t blame external sources for her problems. Isadora, the Watcher who interviews the girls for what school they’ll go to, rejects Mildred from May’s school and sends her to another. She is separated from Stella and Evelyn who both go to May. And you’ll see how that turns out. Evelyn, the other hand, takes all obstacles as personal insults, or deliberate actions against her (egged on by May). Anyone who tries to check her is obviously jealous.
There are a few “aha!” moments for people who have read the other books in the series, as you realise who people are (including one near the end!!!) but you wouldn’t suffer if you hadn’t read them. This is an excellent prequel that you could read before you start the main series without anything being spoiled, or later to fill in the background to the world. What I like about the world in general is that people have ordinary names. There’s a tendency in fantasy – even fantasy with mainly human characters – for names to go down the extreme-sports thunder spectrum. I like that in the Network, ordinary people with ordinary names are the people who are doing the things. Some of the names are old-fashioned, but they’re not elfy-magic names. I’m sure you know what I mean.
What I appreciate about all the Network books is that most of the characters are female. They still cover the range of motivation and emotion and personality that a typical male-driven fantasy would do, but wouldn’t you know it, the women still manage to carry the story! The male characters are important, and they are still fleshed out, but it is all about the building tension between Mildred and Evelyn. Neither of them shy away from a fight, or from doing the dirty work, but Cross also allows them to be vulnerable without losing integrity. The mainly female cast almost slips by unnoticed, until you think about it, because all the characters are people not just fantasy stereotypes. This would be excellent for any book, but I think for a YA book it’s important. While that might not be the point, and of course you have to write the story, it’s always great that as a by-product you get kickass ladies leading the way.
I very much enjoyed this book and am now even more excited about the next – The High Priest’s Daughter – which hopefully won’t be too far away either!
Mildred’s Resistance is released on 15th July! That’s next week!