Do You Believe in Magic
by Maddy Smith
I do. And never more so than at this time of year, when the dark presses close around us and the cold seems to seep into every crack. Now more than ever I find comfort and light in the magic that threads its way through our lives and our literature. After all, the best fantasy books deal with the delicate balance between dark and light that is our human domain.
Perhaps the finest example of this can be found in Susan Cooper’s magical quintet, The Dark is Rising Sequence (McElderry, 2010), which draws on Arthurian legend and Welsh and English mythology to create one of the most dazzling fantasy series I’ve ever experienced. Set amongst the rugged cliffs of Cornwall, the ancient and magical Thames Valley and the legend-filled mists of the Welsh mountains, The Dark is Rising Sequence stands tall as one of the great series of the last hundred years. The title novel, The Dark is Rising, is the second in the series, but in my opinion it’s also the best place to begin. It tells the story of Will Stanton, an ordinary 10-year-old boy—until his Midwinter birthday, when he discovers his true identity as the last and youngest of the Old Ones, immortal guardians of the Light. The world is at its darkest and the fire burns coldest over these 12 days of Christmas, and Will, the newly-awakened Seeker, will have to draw upon new talents and old gifts if he is to succeed in the first part of his quest to keep the Dark from Rising. This series is great for all ages, but I’d give it to anyone 9+ who truly loves and believes in magic.
Also touching on an older form of magic is Pat Walsh’s debut novel Crowfield Curse (Chicken House, 2010), a sublime historical read that examines the magic that was sometimes called miraculous—or heretic. Will is a young boy working at Crowfield Abbey; orphaned by a tragic fire, he is both an outsider and a dependent of the brotherhood. When he finds an injured Hob in the woods, he reaches out to help it—and makes his first contact with the world that will transform his own forever.
With excellent attention to detail and great historical accuracy, Pat Walsh has brought a medieval abbey to life—and restored the Seelie and Unseelie Courts to their rightful position in the world of English fantasy. An enchanting read for 11+.
Speaking of enchantment, where better to turn than Victorian England? Where fine living and true gentility is not only a matter of taste or a matter of income... it’s A Matter of Magic (Orb Books, 2010), the anthology of Patricia Wrede’s wonderful Mairelon the Magician series. Kim is a talented pickpocket, born and raised in the grimy back streets of London, living on her wits and her light fingers. But when she’s caught turning over the wagon of a street performer by the name of Mairelon the Magician, she gets more than she bargained for—his magic is real, as is the danger pursuing him. Part fantasy, part mystery, and part drawing-room comedy, Mairelon the Magician dazzles. In the sequel, Magician’s Ward, we follow Kim as she exchanges a life on the streets for one in high society—chaos, theft and sorcery ensue! This wonderful, two-book series sparkles with humour, mystery and magic and is a terrific read for 10+.
Still another marvellous fantasy author that you simply must read is Kate Thompson, author of the award-winning New Policeman (Greenwillow Books, 2007), the start of a brilliant trilogy which reaches its conclusion in The White Horse Trick (Greenwillow Books, 2010), a dazzling finale to a spectacular series. Other new installments this fall include Mortal Coil (HarperCollins, 2010), the latest in Derek Landy’s deliciously dark and delightful Skulduggery Pleasant series, and I Shall Wear Midnight (HarperCollins, 2010), the newest book featuring Tiffany Aching and written by that master of the fantastic, Terry Pratchett.
I could go on and on, telling you all the spectacular stories you should be reading with your kids this November, but instead I’ll make another sort-of suggestion: brave the wet and windy days! Delve into the depths of your local bookstores and libraries and bring home your treasures to share in front of a crackling fire with mugs of hot chocolate (with extra whipped cream). During these darkest days, take time to truly celebrate the light, and the magic, within.
Maddy Smith is a children’s bookseller and an Islander born and bred; she reads, writes, and believes in the magic of a great book.