In Brief: Slight family difficulties; Strong friendships; Weak style
Publisher: The Chicken House
Published in: 2000
Age Range: Pre Teens
Setting: Earth / Earthaven
- Natalie is a 12-year-old who discovers new strength when she is kidnapped and escapes to the magical world of Earthaven.
- Merlin is the ironically-named son of a low-class wizard with ambitious ideas. He is forced to tempt Natalie away so that she can become the unwilling 13th member of his father's Spellclave, but instead he escapes with her.
- Jo is Natalie's best friend, who blames herself for Nat's disappearance.
- Tim is Natalie's step-brother, angry at having to join her family, but later assiduous in trying to bring her back.
Natalie, kidnapped by Hawk, a low-class wizard who wants her to be the thirteenth member of his spellclave, escapes with his son Merlin, and finds her way to Earthaven. She discovers that her mother was originally from there and that Oq, the soultree of Earthaven, wants to help her and Merlin to repel the invasion that Hawk is planning.
Literary Quality: Not really up to much. On the one hand, it's a story where the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl brings her new step-brother out of his self-imposed disgruntlement and brings her father, depressed since his wife's death, back into the real world. On the other hand, it's a mildly whimsical story of low-caste magic users who recycle used spells and who have ideas above their station. The first aspect is handled well enough, the second fails to find its level: you're never sure just how incompetent any of the magical characters really are, and you never really feel for any of them except Merlin.
Modesty & Decency: Natalie spends quite a while imprisoned and wearing only a shift. There's nothing remotely descriptive and on the occasions when she has to change, there are no men looking. Later, Natalie has a bath in her underclothes while Merlin goes in fully dressed (apparently).
Magic: You're not sure just how seriously you're supposed to take the magical aspects of the story. You have the amusing idea of recycling spells by putting them in a Spell Bank, but you also some quite serious violence, Hawk attempting to kill the soul tree and the unicorns spearing Hawk's men.
Life & Death: Natalie sees and talks to her mother's spirit, returned to serve the soul tree. During Hawk's attack on the soul tree, several of his men are killed, but since his familiar, a hawk, has consumed their familiars, he keeps them alive as puppets.
Family: Natalie's mother is dead; her father has married Julie, whose husband has run off some time before and who has a son, Tim who's reacted badly to the situation by starting to run with a gang even though he's obviously not in the same league.
Merlin's mother was a caster (low-level magic user) like his father, but his father tried to punish her by damaging her familiar, and she went mad and killed herself. Now Merlin is forced to do what his father wants because his own familiar is under threat.
Friendship & Loyalty: Natalie and Merlin grow from initial mistrust to friendship after Merlin helps Natalie to escape and supports her before the Spell Lords. Natalie's friend Jo supports her tactfully, letting Natalie walk her dog, and diverting her attention from unpleasant subjects. When Natalie disappears, Jo & Tim team up to look for her, both feeling responsible in their different ways for her capture.
The cloaked men took Merlin and Natalie underground into a system of bewlidering tunnels where their feet made no sound on the mossy floor. A faint green glow came from the walls, adding to the eeriness of the place. No one spoke. Staring straight ahead, Natalie walked with one hand twisted in the old magehound's ruff. She looked pale and frightened. Merlin supposed Earthaven must be quite a shock to her after her haughty dismissal of spells. In other circumstances he might have enjoyed watching her squirm as she was forced to admit everything he'd been telling her was true. But he was having problems of his own
Thursday 7th August 2003