Calhoun, Dia. Aria of the Sea. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. ISBN 978-0374404543 272 pp. $
Cerinthe Gale, a talented ballet dancer and trained healer, is fulfilling her mother’s last wish by attending a prestigious school for dancers. In spite of misgivings about her chosen career, she moves to a city far from her seaside home, where she can longer hear the sweet song of the Sea Maid. Once she has secured a position as a student, Cerinthe finds herself being dangled like a carrot before the nose of the school’s prima donna, to motivate her adversary Elliana to realize her own talents to her best ability. Their rivalry comes to a head after a performance for the royal family, in which Cerinthe is given a lead and Elliana is her understudy. Elliana challenges Cerinthe to a private competition that leaves Elliana hurt with the same injury that was fatal to Cerinthe’s mother, and Cerinthe must face her demons, and decide if she is on the right path to her destiny after all.
Dia Calhoun’s writing is beautiful, her fantasy world realistic and structured, and the characters she peoples it with complex. The plot has depth, neatly layering Cerinthe’s obstacles until they meld into one issue that is gracefully resolved. Calhoun’s timing is perfect. In one stunning scene, Elliana shines like a star, ruins her chances for a marriage she didn’t want, and sabotages the possibility of becoming a acolyte in the temple, and only Cerinthe recognizes how deliberate her acts are. In another, a nervous Cerinthe is first late for her cue, then early, then finally, right on time, creating humor in the midst of her angst.
This fantasy has wide appeal not only for girls who love ballet, but also for general readers. The ethereal cover art will be a huge draw for those not familiar with Calhoun’s novels. Fans of Gail Carson Levine will especially enjoy the hardworking, passionate and strong-willed Cerinthe and her fantastic world. Highly recommended for purchase.