________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007


A Glass Darkly: A Novel.

Gail Sidonie Sobat.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2006.
187 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894283-69-4.

Subject Headings:
Magic-Juvenile fiction.
Fantasy fiction.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


Now the witch poked wearily at the fire with a stick. She drew her cloak closer. Tried to eat the bread she had purchased that same afternoon in Fre. She was growing sick of the tales. Everywhere she and Besom had circled, she took up the same thread. Children misused, abused.  Then taken. This very day she had learned about the travesty of Fre, wherein generations of families indebted to landowners had been forced to forfeit their children. In years of plague and hardship, the poor had been sustained - barely - by the wealthy. And now they owed greatly. The witch learned it would take generations to repay debts, if repayment was indeed even possible. In the meantime, the debtors' children sweated in the fields, drew the water, hoisted the packs, hauled the goods, performed the masters' bidding. Removed from their families, boys and girls had endured loneliness, ill health, ill treatment, pitiful food. They had been little better than mules.

“Perchance it was a small mercy," one Fre Grandam wept, "that the wee ones were taken, mayhaps delivered.

"In each town Ingamald had asked about a man of green. In every instance, she had been met with puzzled looks, frowns, a scratching of heads. Neither villager nor fieldworker, mayor nor lord, elder nor gossip could recollect any such visitor. Still, in her wiccan bones she knew the green man was the child-thief culprit.

Ingamald stared into the dark crystal, watching the small bodies of the children spilling about the cavern as she had scried before. They looked well enough. Well fed and clothed, at least. Then she remembered the dejected faces and bodies of the miners. Did all folk deserve to lose their children? A lump filled her throat at the thought of Yda. Where was she? How was she? She sent out a witch-thought query. To no avail.

Although she sensed Yda, the witch could not mind-reach her as once she had been able. Something, someone, some spell prevented.


Edmonton teacher and writer Sobat's final volume of the teen fantasy trilogy continues the adventures of Ingamald, the copper-haired, emerald-green eyed witch. At the conclusion of A Winter's Tale, Ingamald, shorn of her beautiful hair, bloodied, and facing execution, causes a "glacial cold" to descend on Hinterlund sending its inhabitants into a "frozen sleep." With Yda, her twelve-fingered protégée, Ingamald steps through tyrant Morton Winter's "dreadful mirror" into the land of Gyldden, "a greening world." The weary and heart-sore travelers encounter a troupe of carnies presided over by a cruel ringmaster who accepts their considerable talents into Carnivalanomaly. Over the next weeks, Ingamald arranges the ringmaster's departure, encourages the troupe to function democratically, and after acquiring enough funds, leaves to pursue a solution to Hinterlund's deepfreeze as well as to discover where the children of Gyldden have gone.

     As Ingamald and Yda travel throughout Glydden, they realize the "wondrous façade" covers some ugly truths. In town after town, Ingamald learns of "children misused, abused" - street urchins dumped in the river like garbage; children sent into mines to test air toxicity, forced to weave using the treacherous looms, conscripted as child soldiers, sold as farm slaves, drug smugglers, and prostitutes; girl children disposed of in favour of boys; indebted parents compelled to forfeit children. In punishment, someone has kidnapped all the children of Glydden, taken them "of a night" leaving no trace. When Yda also disappears from the care of the Bookman, the kidnappings become personal, and Ingamald embarks on a quest to find and rescue her friend and the missing children. With the help of the Bookman, a crystal sphere, the tree people, the broom Besom, the Rowan, and a pair of female pirates, Ingamald learns of a "leafy-garbed piper," the "most beautiful man-boy" who enchanted Yda and lured her away with his irresistible music as he had the children.

     Ingamald eventually locates Yda tending the neglected children for whom Robyn, the well-meaning kidnapper, has failed to provide. In the draco-lizard form of a red dragon, Ingamald defeats the green dragon kidnapper, takes him prisoner, forces him to return the children, and places him on trial. During their adventures, she succumbs to his charms but insists upon his making reparation for his wrongs. After spending a year in Gyldden, Ingamald returns to Hinterlund, alone, Yda having chosen to stay and care for the orphaned children. Ingamald  unfreezes Hinterlund, sends Winter through "the looking glass," and assumes control returning the kingdom to its people, free from tyranny. In an "Epilogue" Sobat provides several possible outcomes for the fate of the "great sorceress."

     The novel adheres to conventions of fantasy literature providing a quasi medieval setting for the richly developed fantasy world complete with laws of nature that allow magic and sorcery; a well-defined main character, appropriate secondary characters, and stereotypical stock characters; an invented language rife with dialect, complex vocabulary, and mystical words and phrases; and strong themes involving the conflict between good and evil. As in the previous entries in the series, A Glass Darkly features Ingamald, an appealing and dynamic heroine, who uses her considerable abilities and powers to benefit her fellow creatures. Strong and independent, she can certainly resort to brutal means when necessary, but she constantly struggles against abusing her skills. She strives to maintain a high standard in using her sorcery and subjugates her personal romantic aspirations in favour of pursuing her self-perceived responsibilities.

     Fans of fantasy who have followed Ingamald's adventures may have hoped for a more definite ending to her story, or for a continuation of her adventures. However, Sobat explains that she deliberately created a  "young woman like those in this century, with corresponding concerns, frustrations, and interests" and leaves modern readers to formulate their own conclusion to the adventures of the "great sorceress."

     Throughout the novel, Sobat uses italicized segments to signify magical transformations into other beings - Ingamald, as a cat and a red dragon, her antagonist, Robyn Goodfellow, as a green dragon. Incantations, songs, and the prologue and epilogue are likewise italicized. A black and white map of Gyldden by Spyder Yardley Jones introduces the text.          


Darleen Golke writes from her home in Abbotsford, BC.


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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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