Book review by the Wyss Foundation
“Sarah Leith Bahn’s The Ancient Realm takes the reader on a magical adventure while addressing real environmental concerns. Much as the Brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales to teach children about the darker facets of human nature, Bahn uses this imaginative story to educate young readers about environmental threats—and the importance of fighting against them.
The story begins in Nova Scotia, where 11 year-old Agnes Fordyce discovers that her strange new babysitter is a member of the Ancient Realm, a magical monarchy established to protect nature. Agnes accepts a position as its Bering Sea Princess, but quickly learns that being a princess is not all about castles and special powers. Like the creatures of Narnia under the reign of the White Witch, the members of the Ancient Realm live in fear of King Ector, a terrifying figure with icicles for teeth, who seeks to take nature’s power for himself at any cost. Agnes agrees to face King Ector and stop his plan to destroy the world’s seas, rivers, forests, and oceans.
Agnes’ resourcefulness and courage grow throughout her quest, which takes her from Denali to the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Forced to acknowledge the destructive power of both nature and humankind, she grows to accept the Empress of Nature’s explanation: “we could never fully appreciate the goodness of this world if we didn’t have the example of darkness beside it.” Agnes returns to her normal world with this knowledge, more confident and mature than when she left it.
Though it’s ostensibly for children, The Ancient Realm’s message about nature will resonate with all who appreciate it: “love it, respect it, and don’t ever abuse it, and in turn, if you are ever in a time of great need, it will take care of you.”