________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 1 . . . . September 4, 2009


Rough Magic.

Caryl Cude Mullin.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2009.
264 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-897187-63-0.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Every living thing on the island held its breath and waited, standing still as stone. Yet the stones themselves seemed to breathe, to contain a pulse of life. The island opened itself to the power of the tree, and the magic filled the void that had been growing and gnawing at its heart for so many empty years.

Ariel was fire heat, smoke dance, the kiss of sun on snow, pain of birth and pang of death. He was love's heart and hate's arrow, the seething song of the sea, the cry of a gull, and the crushing roots of a tree. He was the will of every lightning strike, and he sent it out to the center of the pain.

Caliban was young again, laughing on the shore, imitating the shriek of an eagle as it plunged into the sea for its prey. Then he was running through the forest, playing tag with the spirits of the trees. He knew them all by name, and they loved him, no matter who his mother was, no matter what she had done. He was the island's child. He was the island's hope. The trees knew his voice, the air whispered his name, the mermaids sang him lullabies. This was his home, and he sent his love out into the pain.

Calypso was strong, stronger than they guessed, stronger than she knew. She had the strength of the stones and the force of the tides. The moon was her servant. Knowledge she did not know she possessed filled her mind and revealed the path she must take. She could take and shape and hold things to her will. She reached out and grabbed the staff, right around the wound.

They screamed, all of them, but the ties that bound them could not be broken. The staff knew her, and named her: Sycorax.

The island began to writhe.


In this imaginative retelling and extension of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, after his mother Sycorax's death. Caliban returns to Naples with Prospero and Miranda, leaving the damaged magical island to the fiery Ariel. Miranda's daughter, Chiara, charms Caliban's heart, and he not only learns to be human again, but he also becomes her beloved companion. When her father sends her to Spain to be betrothed in order to consolidate his power, she and Caliban escape to the island where Ariel tests her by sending her to retrieve Prospero's spellbook from the Leviathan, a dragon who lives at the bottom of the ocean. When she is late returning, Caliban and Ariel use the power of Calypso, the ship's "boy," who is really Sycorax's granddaughter, to heal the staff that supports the life of the island. The spell calls Sycorax back to life in Calypso's body. It is only Chiara, transformed into a dragon, and Caliban's sacrifice that save the island and Calypso's soul. Together dragon and girl leave the island, seeking a new life.

     Although a knowledge of Shakespeare's play is not critical to the understanding of this novel, it will enrich the reading of it. The power of transformation shines through this retelling. The power of water and shipwrecks, magic and alchemy, and parental love and devotion steamroller their way through this compelling story. Like the play, the novel is divided into five acts, each act having eight, nine or eleven scenes which are like short vignettes that move the story along through time. Lively dialogue demonstrates character and dramatic tension.

     Caliban and Chiara are fascinating characters, both good-hearted and devoted to each other. Caliban doubts always and yet soldiers onwards towards goodness, carrying hope and love in front of him like candles. Chiara's voice, in particular, is self-deprecating and fearless. The fickle Ariel is cold-hearted yet determined to save the island, while the vicious Sycorax reaches out from death using magic to grasp the power she once held. The dragons various heads are charming, steeped in magic and eternal life.

     The island and the water surrounding it are a magical yet very real setting, shrouded in fog, dripping in rain, hiding dark caves and a derelict home.

     Above all, the power of ancient magic swirls around this story as wizards control their countries' prosperity and safety, either seeking power for themselves or retiring from the world to study alchemy.

     This complex, poetic novel with its shifting settings and times (at once both real and imagined) will appeal to sophisticated readers.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.