With this skillfully crafted fantasy novel, the outstanding British writer Peter Dickinson has created a complicated world of magic. Two adolescents, Tilja and Tahl, and their grandparents venture out of their enchanted homeland, the Valley, to save it from enemies. They seek a powerful magician and a magic ring to restore their country's protective unicorns and ice dragons. To her surprise, Tilja's strange immunity to magic proves vital to their success. This absorbing story is perfect for Harry Potter fans ready for a more complex plot and a strong heroine.
Like his stellar novels Shadow of a Hero and Bone from a Dry Sea, Dickinson's latest offering moves from the mythic to the particular and back again, making clear the ways in which an individual's extraordinary experience could metamorphose into an entire culture's legend. Readers who are willing and able to fall into step with its majestic pace will be rewarded by a thought-provoking trek through a fairy tale world that is as breathtakingly fresh as it is archetypal. For 19 generations, the comfortably prosperous Valley has been tucked away from the outside world kept safe by powerful enchantments. When these powers begin to weaken, however, it's up to Tilja and her grandmother Meena, along with their companions, Tahl and his grandfather Alnor, to journey forth in search of a magician powerful enough to protect their home once again. In the course of this pilgrimage, Tilja who has recently and heartbreakingly learned that she possesses not a jot of the hereditary magic that would entitle her to inherit her beloved family homestead comes to understand more about the unique and valuable gift she does possess. Eerily, the novel is sprinkled with images that take on an unforeseen resonance: a rebel magician be-turbaned and lanky and collapsing towers that crush their proud builders. A challenging magical adventure for the thinking reader. Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
O happy reader who is just now discovering Peter Dickinson! Every book he writeswhether a mystery for adults or a story for young peoplepossesses an unforgettable voice, a distinctive setting, utterly human characters, and a dash of the unexpected to set things moving. Dickinson writes with equal persuasiveness about children in prehistoric Africa (The Kin Trilogy), in ancient Egypt (The Blue Hawk), and in versions of the modern world (Emma Tupper's Diary, AK, Eva, The Changes Trilogy). Young Tilga's peaceful Valley has been protected for generations from the Empire's tyranny through the nearly forgotten spells laid on its forest and snows. Now, however, the magic is wearing thin. Tilga, her crotchety grandmother, the boat-boy Tahl, and his blind grandfather risk traveling through the Empire to ask the magician Faheel to keep the Valley safe once again. The Ropemaker aids them through his special powers to loosen anything from hair-ties to the ropes of time, but it is Tilga's shameful disabilityher immunity to magicand her steadfastness that ultimately carry the little band through all harm. The Ropemaker observes the rules of a classic fairy-tale questa young hero undertakes a dangerous journey and is befriended by companions with unusual powers in unlikely guises; after many temptations and ordeals, their kindness, humor, and cleverness disarm the villain, and the beloved is saved. Dickinson works out the magic technology with great ingenuity, but the strength of his imagination shows itself best in creating a peril that seems all too possible in our own world: it is treason to die without the Emperor's permissionand if your grandparents die withoutpaying the permission fee, you get sold into slavery. As in all the best fantasies, the real magic here is in the characters, their moral dilemmas, and the author's writing. A wonderful book, for every library. KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Random House, Delacorte, 375p., Ages 12 to 18.
Young Tilja is bitter when she realizes that the magic powers of her mother and grandmother have passed to her younger sister, not her. But there are many kinds of magic, as she discovers, on the long, perilous journey she must make when her Valley is threatened. She and her grandmother Meena join forces with young Tahl and his grandfather, who have their own magic, to find Naheel, the designer of the Valley's original protection, to renew it. They meet many dangers along the way. Naheel, as his powers weaken, leaves it to Tilja to surmount all obstacles, then find and work with the mysterious Ropemaker to save them all and bring peace back to the Valley. This fantasy is lengthy but rich with imagination, fascinating characters and adventure. 2001, Delacorte Press/Random house Books for Children, $15.95. Ages 10 to 16. Reviewer: Sylvia Marantz
For many years, powerful magic has protected Tilja's valley. Now the generations of women and men who have maintained this barrier are losing their power. If the magic dies, the valley will fall prey again to the corrupt and brutal empire, whose soldiers collect crippling taxes and pillage and torch villages at will. The only hope lies with finding the magician who originally put the valley under its protective spell. Two elders must journey through the dark empire to find this person. They are accompanied by Tahl, the old man's nephew, and Tilja, grandaughter of the old woman. Tilja is the unlikely star of the story, a girl who should have inherited her grandmother's magical abilities but seems to lack any such talent. She agrees to the dangerous journey because of her profound despair at the loss of her legacy. Dickinson provides pure and utterly enjoyable fantasy, with all the requisite elements:the hero, the quest, and the awakening of the hero's power. The novel, however, is not just another fantasythe story is thick with flavors of the Middle East and northern Europe and alludes to mythologies from around the world. Characters are developed well, even if readers only meet them for a page or two. Teens will struggle along with Tilja when she feels compelled to use her newfound power in unethical ways. The book is a riveting read, full of high adventure and clever plot turns, that sometimes bogs down slightly in complex descriptions of magical events, but momentum generated by the compelling story carries the reader forward. This page-turner stands poised to satisfy the cravings of Rowling, Nix, and Pullman fans. The less-than-appealing cover might mean that promotion willrely on word-of-mouth for fantasy fans to discover this engrossing read. VOYA CODES:4Q 5P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses;Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Delacorte, 376p, $15.95. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer:Alison KastnerVOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-The Valley is left alone by barbarian marauders from the north and by the powerful, greedy Empire to the south. Old stories explain why. Although these ancient legends are hardly believed any more, Tilja's mother still goes into the forest to sing to the cedars and Tahl's grandfather talks to the waters that flow along the northern border. Their families have been protecting the Valley in this manner for nearly 20 generations. Now that magical protection is breaking down, and Tilja, her grandmother, Tahl, and his grandfather set out on a quest to find a mysterious man who may or may not still be alive but who probably holds the secret they need to discover. As this band of travelers makes it way across hostile, unfamiliar territory, Tilja begins to learn of her ability to neutralize magic, rendering it powerless. Since the Empire's leaders have harnessed magic as a tool to control its subjects, this proves to be a most important talent. The travelers experience one dangerous, exciting adventure after another. They meet a strange man known as the Ropemaker, whose magic is mightier than any in the Empire. As the four come closer to achieving their goal, evil forces conspire to destroy them. And the suspense does not let up until the very last pages. While on one level this tale is a fantasy, it is also a wonderful coming-of-age story. Tilja is a young woman who is discovering who she is and what she is meant to do in life. Fascinating questions about time are posed, and there is much for young people to think about here. As much as anything, this book is about the power of story and the influence it can have on ordinary people's lives.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Dickinson's new work is a quest fantasy, but not in the heroic mold. Its core is set in a Valley, cut off from the warlike tribes on the northern plains and from the Empire to its south, by barriers fueled by the channeled magic of the area's people. As the story begins, the defenses that safeguarded the Valley over 20 generations are breaking down. Tilja, her grandmother, and Tahl with his grandfather, travel into the Empire seeking the sorcerer who fixed the original safeguards to request that he renew them. The Empire has changed and is now filled with unexpected dangers and challenges. Dickinson divides his narrative into three sections, each named for a sorcerer. "Asarta" sets the story up, establishing the mythology of the Valley, its history, and a feel for the social mores of the world. "Faheel" tells of the quest through the Empire, its current political and social characteristics, and the nature of magic and validity of its use. "Ramdata" is the concluding section, recounting the return of the four to the Valley, through the chaos caused by the actions of Faheel, the second sorcerer. This is an unusually satisfying fantasy in a world built through the myths and customs of the people who live there. There is a very concrete sense of the geography of the various lands that the characters travel through; even the nature of the magic is based in the land and objects produced by its people. Characterizations are excellent, including the secondary characters (and the horse). Suspense continues to build, with an ending that is harmonious with the plot, setting, and characters. For fantasy fans, a spellbinder. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“A challenging magical adventure for the thinking reader.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
“While on one level this tale is a fantasy, it is also a wonderful coming-of-age story.”—School Library Journal, Starred
“Dickinson works his own magic in a thoroughly compelling tale that delves into the nature of both magic and time.”—Booklist, Starred
Read an Excerpt
It had snowed in the night. Tilja knew this before she woke, and waking she remembered how she knew. Somewhere between dream and dream a hand had shaken her shoulder and she'd heard Ma's whisper.
"It's snowing at last. I must go and sing to the cedars. You'll have to make the breakfast before you feed the hens."
Tilja reached up to the shelf beyond the bolster and pulled her folded underclothes in under the quilt, where she spread them along beside her body to warm through. While they did so she lay and listened to the wind hooting in the chimney above her. Anja, beside her, grumbled in her sleep, clutching at her share of the quilt while Tilja wriggled out of her nightshirt and into the underclothes. Then she slid out and hurried into another layer of clothing, tucked Anja snugly in and finished dressing.
The bed was a boxlike structure set right into the immense old fireplace, on one side of the stove. Her parents slept in a larger box on the far side, but that would be empty by now, with Da in the byre seeing to the animals, and Ma on her way to the cedar lake, far into the forest.
Faint light seeped through the shutters, but she didn't open them, and not just because of the savage wind that was battering against them and shrieking into their cracks. She liked to do these first tasks in the dark, knowing without having to feel around exactly where to put her hand for anything she needed. Woodbourne was her home, and this kitchen was the heart of it, as familiar to her as her own body. She had no more need to see to find things than she had to put her finger to the tip of her nose. Relighting the stove in the dark was a way of starting the day by telling herself that this was so.
First, she opened the firebox and carefully riddled out the old ash, leaving just the last black embers, flecked with sparks. Onto these she spread a double handful of straw and another of dry twigs, then closed the fire door, opened both dampers, and stood leaning against the still-warm stove while she repeated the fire charm three times. Ma never bothered with the fire charm, but Tilja's grandmother, Meena, had taught it to her so that she would know how long to wait for the twigs to be well alight before she added the coarser kindling. Usually it took four times, but three would be enough with a wind like this to drag the draft up.
A wind like this? And snowing? That wasn't right.
Once the kindling was in, and had caught, she slid in four logs, sawn and split to fit the stove and dried all summer in an open shed. The flames began to roar into the flues. Now at last she poked a taper in and used it to light the lamp, poured water into a pan and set it to boil, heaved the porridge pot out of the oven where it had been quietly cooking all night in the remaining heat from the old fire, stirred in a little water and set it beside the water pan to warm through.
Next she finished getting up. She rinsed her face and hands, combed and bunched her hair and slipped into her boots, leaving the laces loose, and opened the door into the yard. At once the wind flung a gust of snow into her face, stinging as if it had been a handful of fine gravel. Brando was out of sight, cowering in his kennel from the storm.
This is all wrong, she thought again as she clumped across to the outhouse. The first snow in the Valley should have fallen a month ago, on a still night, huge soft flakes floating steadily down, blanketing yard and roofs and fields a foot deep by morning. These furious flurries weren't snow. And nothing was really lying. Any flakes that reached the ground were snatched up by the wind and whirled into drifts in the corners of the yard. When a gust hurtled in from another direction it would catch at these and set them streaming away like smoke.
Worse still, checking by touch in the dark of the outhouse, she found that some of the stuff had found its way in through a crack and made a miniature drift across the seat. With freezing fingers she scooped it away, did what she had to and clumped back in a foul temper to the kitchen. She half thought of sending Anja out with a storm lantern to clear the outhouse and block the crack before Da got back, but in the end she did it herself.
By the time he came in she had the porridge hot and the sage tea brewed and the bacon frying, and Anja was up and dressed and clean.
"Stupid sort of snow we've got this year," he muttered. "I hope your mother's all right."
"Where's Ma gone?" said Anja, through porridge.
"She's gone to the lake to sing to the cedars," said Tilja. "She'll be home to cook your dinner."
From the Hardcover edition.