By HG Parry
I stumbled across The Magician’s daughter last week when I stopped into Whitcoulls to pick up a pack of cards. One cannot just walk into a bookshop and not browse. This caught my eye in the NZ fiction section and sounded interesting. Lucky for me that I picked it up, as that evening I decided I wasn’t in the mood for the literary fiction novel I was reading and now had a book I could read instead.
This book is set in an alternative history in the early 1900s. It centres around Biddy, a 16 year-old living on a magical, hidden, island somewhere off the Irish coast. The island is all she has known all her life, and she lives there with her guardian Rowan (a mage) and his familiar Hutchincroft (a rabbit, most of the time). She’s never been allowed to leave the island, and knows little of the outside world. As she grows older, she is pulling at the reigns somewhat and longing to see the world, but Rowan tells her “not yet”. Rowan regularly turns into a raven and leaves the island at night to do important and mysterious things in the world, but he is always home a couple of hours before dawn. Until one night, when he is not. Biddy helps him to come home (you’ll have to read the book to see how), and so begins her first steps off the island, to discover the danger that lies beyond and the truth behind her past and her link with Rowan.
While the main character is just 16 years old, and one could call it a sort of coming of age story, I would not class this book as YA (and did check it wasn’t before I bought it). Yes, it is suitable for readers of that age group, and many others, but it doesn’t have the simplicity of style, prose, plot, characters and motivations that are generally present in YA books. Or even “adult” books by YA authors. There is a richness and depth to the story that I have found missing in these. So those like myself who don’t like YA can happily go into this novel knowing you are safe.
The book, is entirely from the point of view of Biddy, and yet it is interesting how the author is also able to share with us pivotal events as seen by other key characters. There are villains in the story, as all fantasy novels tend to have, and there are also the characters that you can’t quite tell which side they are on. But there are also sides of the “good guys” that are far from pure – this is after all real life, where people have layers.
While I was intrigued from the beginning, it took a little bit for me to become hooked. Once I was, I was loath to put down the book. Alas work kept getting in the way. Happily, a rainy Sunday afternoon encouraged a lazy sofa session to devour the last 150 pages. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this world, and while the story sums up nicely, there is a delightful openness about the ending that leaves room for my imagination to wander some more. Or perhaps for a second book.
In the meantime, I might try reading another of this author’s books as she does have a beautiful way of telling a story.
Off the coast of Ireland sits a legendary island hidden by magic. A place of ruins and ancient trees, sea-salt air and fairy lore, Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known. Washed up on its shore as a baby, Biddy lives a quiet life with her guardian, the mercurial magician Rowan. A life she finds increasingly stifling. One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies – forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets. Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself.