Sunday 4 October 2015

REVIEW: The Magician's Way by E.M. Scott

"Adela, the Forest Queen, has protected the balance of nature in the Three Valleys for 1000 years. The Three Valleys are the safest place on earth. But Adela is tied now, too tired, and something stirs in the well she guards. If left unchecked it threatens all within the natural world. 

A twelve-year-old girl, befriended by a banished knight, may hold a key to keeping the balance But has she been taught enough to do so?"

It's easy to fall back on favourite authors, and while I have plenty of Pratchett and Rankin for the near future, I'm making the effort to read new authors; both new to me and new to publication. E.M. Scott is new to the fantasy scene, The Magician's Way being her first novel. It's a book for younger readers, especially suitable for 7/8/9-year-olds, such as the Year Three class that teacher Scott dedicates her book to. Children are one of Scott's two main concerns, along with wildlife. She sets this out herself in a postscript, which details that 10% of the book's profits will go towards charities that support conservation and child welfare. Without this, though, her concerns are clear through reading the novel, which takes time to explore the relationships between its child protagonist and the many animals that inhabit the kingdom in which she lives.

The story is told through the eyes of Lola, the young apprentice of the aged Magician, who has lived a quiet rural life before the disruption to the Kingdom of the Three Valleys necessitates their travelling to the King's castle and the surrounding village. The nature of the threat to the King is unexpected, and the force that threatens the kingdom has a wide, unceasing reach, giving the tale an oppressive atmosphere. Thankfully, there are many friends and allies for Lola, so at no point do the odds seem insurmountable. The Magician himself wanes quickly, and Lola developing her talents and strengths as she leads the fight against the evil that threatens the Three Valleys. Her greatest gift allows her to connect to the natural world in a unique way, and the story puts me in mind of a more child-friendly version of Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice and its follow-ups.

The novel is written in clear, straightforward prose, and should be accessible for younger readers as they make their way through a story that continually adds new elements before building to a strong climax with a powerful foe. Sometimes a little more flourish to the telling would be welcome, but on the whole the story is strong, intriguing and easy to follow without ever talking down to its target audience. I'm pleased to hear that two further novels are planned. I think it's quite clear where Lola's destiny will take her, but how she'll get there is another question entirely. A strong debut.

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