Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry

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Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: Dramatic and exciting story with a brilliant, original setting. Difficult to put down once you’ve begun. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0575100404

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Stonewylde is a mysterious self-contained community that exists in the heart of modern England but operates in isolation from the rest of the world, offering a very alternative lifestyle. Pagan culture is an intrinsic part of Stonewylde, with its various seasonal festivals, unique style of living, and most importantly its reverence of nature. Society in the community is also pretty unorthodox, being based upon an autocracy ruled by the Magus, a figure who is blessed with Earth Magic, during each of the eight seasonal festivals, that gives him the power to run Stonewylde.

Furthermore, there is a significant social divide between the Hallfolk and the Villagers, with the Hallfolk essentially being an upper class, and the Villagers being the working class. Despite such social divides, for decades Stonewylde has been a haven for its people, who have enjoyed years of prosperity and comfort, and when Sylvie and her mother Miranda are allowed entrance into the community, due mainly to Sylvie’s uncanny similarity in appearance to the Hallfolk, they are awed by the beauty, the customs, and the magic of Stonewylde. However, as Sylvie grows in confidence and starts a friendship with Yul, a boy branded as a troublemaker by Magus, she begins to discover that Stonewylde and the magnetic Magus are not quite as perfect as they seem.

In Stonewylde, Kit Berry has brought into existence a fascinating setting. Steeped as it is in Pagan culture and ancient rites and Celtic festivals, you would expect the community to be very old-fashioned and anachronistic. It certainly is. But the author is convincing in persuading the reader that such a secluded society continues to exist in today’s world, and it is fascinating how Stonewylde manages to maintain some modern aspects of society, especially in terms of education, while being very much old-fashioned in most other aspects. Coming from the point of view of Sylvie and Miranda, as outsiders, readers will immediately identify the negatives of the lifestyle presented by Stonewylde. However, through the carefully crafted words of Magus, the author manages to persuade both the characters, especially the primarily cynical Miranda, and readers that Stonewylde actually works; this makes it all the more impactful when some of the darker aspects of the community are revealed in the latter half of the story.

Kit Berry has created a charismatic villain in the form of Magus, who is subtly built up into a really tyrannical, vicious figure. His dialogue is brilliant, especially the way in which he uses his words to slyly suppress any doubts that Sylvie or Miranda have about Stonewylde. I also found myself rooting for the rebellious Yul; after the hardships that he faces at the hands of his brutal, obnoxious father and the cruel Magus, you cannot help but sympathise with the hot-headed teen with the unbreakable spirit. Sylvie also proves to be more than just a pretty face and together she and Yul make for a convincing and likeable pairing. There are also a number of enigmatic secondary characters, in the form of the shaman Clip and Mother Heggy, the archetypal wise old woman, who enhance the mystical feel of the setting.

Earth Magic is a cool concept that is used sparingly by the author, thereby increasing its impact whenever it appears. I enjoyed how subtly more supernatural aspects of Stonewylde were woven into the story by the author. Her writing, though engaging, at times feels clichéd and overly descriptive. The narrative feels imbalanced due to the tone feeling forcedly archaic at times and more casual and contemporary at others. I was also unconvinced by the catalyst behind Sylvie and her mother moving to Stonewylde. Nevertheless, the pace of the story, which goes at a comfortable canter, means that you don’t really notice the minor flaws and instead become absorbed in this captivating plot populated with alluring characters.

I’d like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Magus, as an overwhelmingly alluring and intelligent villain, reminds me of the brilliantly devious Mayor Prentiss from The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, part of one of my favourite series of all time. Those who enjoyed this novel might want to give Triskellion, and its highly commended sequel Triskellion 2: The Burning, by Will Peterson a try.

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