Saturday, 29 March 2008

Three Fantasies

The Shadow Hunters Linda McNabb, HarperCollins, 2007, 224 pages, paperback, NZ$18.99
ISBN 978-1-86950-654-4
The Moonbirds Jenny Jackson, Reed, 2007, 161 pages, paperback, NZ$17
ISBN 978-1-86978-008-1
The Druids of Time Book 1 of The Keeper of Secrets, Marie Manderson, Reed, 2007, 286 pages, paperback, NZ$17

Fantasy is alive and well and living in New Zealand. Here are three examples. The Shadow Hunters is the seventh novel that Linda McNabb has set in her alternative medieval fantasy world, which has interesting echoes of our own. When King Lewas suspects elves of seeking to assassinate him, he tries to drive them all from his kingdom.

Rhonan, a 12 year old half-elf, is one of many with elvish blood who have been living among the humans. Easily identified by their lack of a shadow, the elves can use magic elfstone pendants to disguise their true appearance. Now Rhonan and his sister Dyahn must journey to Shaldo (the Shadowlands) home of the elves, to see if they can obtain life-saving elfstones. Hampered by having to care for Tryx, a baby dragon, they find that Shaldo has its own problems and little time for “half-breeds.” But then an unexpected adventure, in Lewas’s own court, brings everyone, elf and human alike, to an awareness of the perils of prejudice.

This tale will please Linda McNabb’s loyal readers.

Ellie looked about her and gasped when she saw that all the tree branches on the edge of the clearing were full of possums.” In Jenny Jackson’s first novel, The Moonbirds, Ellie (10) has to move to the West Coast, where she sees the dense bush and flax surrounding her new home as menacing. To add to her alarm, she thinks she can hear children’s voices, and strange birds (the moonbirds of the title) seem to be summoning her at night. Paths through the flax appear and vanish, while Ellie’s Gran Morrissey recalls tales of an ancient tragedy involving seven young children.

It comes as no particular surprise when Ellie and a local boy, Drew, are guided into the bush by an army of local birds and discover seven little graves. What follows, however, is unexpected, as Drew and Ellie find that the past is connected to the present and that the future of the bush and the birds depends on them. The conservation element of this supernatural thriller for the young is rather loosely attached but the plot keeps galloping along to its explosive conclusion.

Part of The Druids of Time is set in Karamea where moa roam the bush. Readers won’t be surprised because Marie Manderson’s fantasy novel contains a wide range of extinct and mythical creatures, plus a few like the deadly sizzlewing which seem to have strayed in from Hogwarts. These creatures are only a few of the challenges facing Zac, a Palmerson North boy Zac who discovers that he is a Druid who has been selected as the Keeper of Secrets.

Untrained, but with a lively personality and plenty of brains, Zac is expected to rescue the stolen Emerald and protect the world from The Forgotten Ones. (There are lots of capitals in this book.) He is assisted by Tobias, a shape-changing American Indian and Viveka a gypsy girl, not to mention an army of Celtic, Samurai and Maori warriors.

While the mythology is mixed and the language ranges from slang to sub-Tolkien, the three young characters are interesting and they move quickly enough to keep disbelief at bay. There is also plenty of humour. This is Book 1 of The Keeper of Secrets series, so it seems that series of fantasy novels may also be alive and well in New Zealand.

This review by Trevor Agnew first appeared in The Press, Christchurch on 24th November 2007.

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