Book Review: The Portly Lady
Reviewed by Steph Huddleston
A dark teen fantasy with fresh worldbuilding and themes of parental acceptance and loneliness
The Portly Lady is the latest installment of the Keeper Of The Mirrorseries by Theresa Nellis. Fans of the first book will be delighted to continue the adventure with returning characters Peter, Kate, Tom, and Zack.
Young fans will be captivated by the lush and dark worldbuilding. In this installment, 13-year-old Peter has come to terms with his newfound identity as a dark elf, and he is finding his place in the world again. Loyalties are torn and jealousy flourishes as he finds himself fighting against Kate, Tom, and Zack in order to free and save his father Bael (again).
But the real danger comes from the former director of Peter and Zack’s foster home: the portly lady—a dark elf herself. She possesses a number of powerful relics that Peter and his father want, but how far will Peter go to please his father and betray those he once cared for?
The Portly Lady may be best read if you have read the first installment. Though it’s possible to piece the plot together in book two alone, there isn’t too much explained about the first book which may lead to some confusion and perhaps difficulty empathizing with the characters. Also, though this series is listed on retailer sites as YA, it may be best suited to readers in the upper middle-grade bracket who enjoy other series such as Harry Potter or the Deltora’s Quest books.
There are plenty of family and friendship dynamics for readers to contemplate and relate to in The Portly Lady, such as Peter’s thirst for his father’s acceptance, loneliness, and Zack’s anger at the actions of his former friend. Late childhood can be a lonely experience, so it’s important for young readers to have these kinds of stories: those that provide them with an escape as well as an example of characters wrestling with the same kinds of issues as them.
“Then that was it.
His father had left him.
He was alone.
The worldbuilding feels fresh and well thought-out, with readers grasping the significance of the world of the dark elves as well as the satisfying exploration of the broader concept of good versus evil.
Unfortunately, middle grade fiction and children’s literature is filled with negative descriptions of overweight characters—oftentimes villains are ugly, fat or both. While this can give children a narrative lens through which to view good vs evil (It makes it easy to spot the baddie) it can lead to a continuation of troublesome stereotypes, particularly if other representations of different body types aren’t present in the story. I was hopeful that a more nuanced direction would be taken to provide a more complex villain’s arc for the story.
Still, The Portly Lady is a satisfying teen fantasy that will get young readers excited for the next installment.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Middle Grade / Fantasy
Print Length: 234 pages
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