________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006


The Princess Mage.

Maggie L. Wood.
Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2006.
292 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-894549-52-X.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4


"None of it was real, then?" Brand pushed up his sleeve, rubbing a hand gingerly along his unscarred arm.

"Oh no, it was real. Very real." Dacia spoke from the doorway, where she stood waiting for Willow and Brand. "Emotions and pain are always real. The mind makes this so. The trick is to learn how to control the mind.

"Brand gave Dacia a suspicious look. "And what is it to you, Dacia Thornheart, if we know these things? Why do you help us?" He led Willow to the doorway and eyed the elf girl intently. "You are Jarlath's daughter. Nezeral's sister. 'Twould seem, despite your professed grudge, that we could only be your enemy. Yet.yet you persist in making yourself useful. Why is this? Are you, mayhap, playing a Game as well?


Dacia's blank-eyed indifference shocked Willow. Dacia had just confided in her. Had been kind and sympathetic. Now she was saying it was only a Game?

The elf girl gave them a cold smile. "I do not play against you, though. My father wishes to win Nezeral back. I wish him to stay in Mistolear. So you see, any Game I may be playing will be to your advantage."

Brand smiled back just as coldly. "Yes. Well, you shall forgive me if the words of an elf do not exactly inspire trust."

"Nor should they." Dacia swept a slender arm out into the inky hallway. "Shall we? My father does not like to be kept waiting."


In this faultlessly organized, compelling second volume of the Mistolear trilogy, author Maggie L. Wood plunks down 15-year-old Canadian Willow in her true magical world of Gallandria where she would prefer to play with her baby brother Nezeral, the former son of the elf king, whose transformation to babyhood solved the last Game. However, she passionately accepts the challenge to attend the Elf Council of Clarion even though she knows the danger of entering the world of the elves.

     The elves, who value power and power alone, draw Willow and her protector, Brand, into a gruesome Game in which the elf king, Jarlath, seems to be punishing his twin children, Dacia and Theon, by forcing them to accompany the two humans while they run the Game of the Goblin's Gauntlet, trying to reach the king of the goblins, who will resolve the Game without too much torture, pain and suffering. The one power the group is granted is that of healing which Willow uses to remove the black thorns of evil from the hearts of their enemies, the goblins and the phookas. A Compact between the goblins and the humans protects the humans from death, but not from fear, which King Gobb of the goblins certainly uses to his advantage. However, Willow persists in healing the heart-thorned until the Balance in the Game swings towards good and she and her companions win the Game. Allowed to return to Mistolear, she must choose one elf twin to go with her in order to avoid Jarlath's torture of her mother. Won over by his warmth and compassion, she chooses Theon, an action which not only stuns Brand into open jealousy but also derails King Jarlath and Dacia's plan for Dacia to oversee Nezeral's upbringing, making sure that he remains untainted by the goodness of humans. Dacia's fury at her father's lies and her inability to influence Willow inspire her to use Brand's jealousy to spark the intrigue that will surely fill volume three of this amazing trilogy.

     Willow's compassion for those creatures weaker than herself, combined with her magical healing abilities, creates a powerful character who works for good in the universe. Her love and desire for Brand will connect her with any teenager who has been in love. Her mistakes humanize her, and her modern language and expectations around the power of women will have the intended reader nodding in agreement.

     Brand rises above the testosterone-filled, knight stereotype in his wise analysis of his society. Dacia's astute observations and judgements about the humans and their relationships, her steely determination to survive the Game, and her overwhelming, ruthless desire for the elf throne will have readers gasping with surprise and awe. Her more laid-back brother, Theon, provides a counterpoint to Dacia. But is he as "good" as he seems? The goblin and elf kings, the young goblins, the Phooka and even Willow's parents and grandparents come alive in their dialogue.

     The relentless pace of the plot, the cold, sneaky plans of the elves and the hilarious conversations of the goblins keep this fantasy lively and un-put-downable. The worlds of Mistolear and Clarion are fully realized, with exquisite detail well woven into the plot. The connections between the elf world, the human world and the Gauntlet dwellers will draw any reader who love faerie tales and has wondered about the Unseelie Court.

     If you know a middle school reader, run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore to buy your copies of this fabulous fantasy and its first volume, The Princess Pawn (See Vol. X No. 8, December 12, 2003.).

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller whose parents read her faerie tales when she was four years old - lessons she has never forgotten.


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

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