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. Volume VIII Number 14 . . . . March 15, 2002
The White Horse Talisman, which is the first of Andrea Spalding's planned "Summer of Magic" quartet, invites young readers on a fascinating foray into old English folklore and Celtic legends.
When Chantel and Adam are sent to England to spend the summer with their cousins, neither child has any inkling of the magical adventures that await them there. Adam is brooding and angry, knowing that his parents have sent him and his little sister away so they can try to sort out their marital troubles which may yet end in divorce. Meanwhile, seven-year-old Chantel soon begins to hear a voice in her head, the voice of the fabled White Horse. The White Horse becomes a friend and guide to her, telling her that she is a Magic Child and that he needs her help to be reunited with the lost red mare and her foal and to reclaim his long-hidden talisman. In fact, the White Horse and his companions, collectively known as the Wise Ones, need Chantel, Adam and their cousins to believe in them and thus to aid them in their race against the Dark Being. A manipulative dragon tries to use Adam's anger and hate to divide the children and acquire the talisman for his own evil ends, but ultimately Adam realizes the truth and foils the dragon's sinister plans. And so begins their "Summer of Magic"!
Steeped in Celtic folklore, this tale will readily beckon to young fantasy readers and may also hol d great appeal to horse lovers since much of the book revolves around the ancient legend of a white horse carved in a chalky hill. The prologue, which tells of the Wise Ones' flight from the Dark Being and their hiding of the tools of power on Earth, sets the stage beautifully for this adventure and the ones that shall follow. The author's treatment of the Wise Ones throughout the story is marvelous: the prose is exquisite, and readers will be anxious to follow their story as it unravels and learn how the children are able to help the Wise Ones. Like Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series, this book re-introduces the ageless, timeless theme of the battle between the force s of light and dark, and constantly reminds readers that you cannot have one without the other. It is also reminiscent of the more recent "Unicorns of Balinor" series in which the unicorns are aided in their struggle against malevolent forces by a chosen few from earth. For readers at that younger level, this will be an engrossing fantasy adventure. More sophisticated readers of the genre may find this book a little too tame.
While the folkloric elements of this story are highly intriguing, the characters are a little disappointing. Despite their importance to the story, the four children never truly come alive for the reader. This situation may be due, in part, to the fact that the point of view keeps switching from one child to another. While this technique is often an excellent tool for advancing the plot and developing multiple characters, it is not employed successfully here where you find yourself first inside Chantel's head listening to the voice of the White Horse and then suddenly realize tha t you are seeing through Adam's angry eyes. Furthermore, despite the fact that Chantel is described as being mature beyond her years, she is still not believable as a seven-year-old protagonist. While the number 7 is important to the story, as is the concept of it being a young child who believes in the magic, Chantel did not speak or act like a true seven-year-old, a situation which also made it difficult to bond with her as a character. The characters also seemed a little slow to pick up on the clues that were more obvious to the reader. For young readers, this won't be so much of an issue because they will be more apt to appreciate the way in which the author plainly spells out everything for the characters and so, too, the readers. However, readers who are more accustomed to the genre will find that frustrating.
Nevertheless, The White Horse Talisman has a charming, almost fairytale-like quality to it that will delight readers who have just begun reading novels or who are new to the realm of fantasy literature. The fact that the children are the ones with whom the Wise Ones communicate and who thus help keep the magic alive, the magic which the adults over the years have all but forgotten, is another endearing element of the story. Book One of this quartet provides a promising beginning to a series that will undoubtedly develop a loyal following. It also manages to provide a satisfying ending while still leaving lots to look forward to in the coming chronicles. I would, however, seriously question the publisher's suggested reading level of ages 12 and up. It is clearly for a much younger audience.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.