The Sorcerer's Mirror by Adrian Howard

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The Sorcerer's Mirror by Adrian Howard

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A girl encounters a parallel world, where – of course – she is the focus of a great world-saving plot. An old-fashioned and undemanding but entertaining fantasy is the result.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 268 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Athena Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1847480958

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Olivia’s family has just moved to a new farm-house in the countryside. But she will go a lot further. A spot in the property is the secret link to a wooded country full of the little people – dwarves, pixies, elves, gnomes and sprites. This land is normally a halcyon idyll, but they have had another visitor – one who has sucked all the fun and life out of the realm and replaced it with all he had to offer – evil, and his rule. What can young Olivia bring to those leaders, with their spots of magically-hidden resistance, who think she is their saviour?

After a lot of discussion and exposition, it becomes clear Olivia must rescue three other children that have also encountered the Woodland world but have never quite left it fully for reality. They must then take themselves off through great peril and save the world from the evil that is abroad in it. As you’d expect.

This then is just another quest story in a fantasy world. The quest is rather simple in setting up, once you get through quite a few meetings, discussions and revelations of what has happened and what needs to be done. It is a little unfortunate that the rest of the fantasy has that blockage in front of it, and also suffers in its own way – people on the journey meet up with fellow adventurers, get split up and reunite, and after every encounter, everything has to be retold, over an obligatory table-load of delicious and exotic foods and drinks. We thankfully don’t get too much of this, but it is enough that it happens so often and that we’re told about it every time.

Also, the characters in the Woodland world have rather an old-fashioned way of speaking – not completely stylised, but certainly evident. There is an obvious audience for the book in the teenage market, and the vocabulary is rather mature and large for them, potentially – people don’t put clothes on, they adopt them, for one instance. Add to that the unmistakable element of Narnia, or Alice in Woodland – thankfully underplayed either way – with the travels of the blonde girl through a barrier to a world where bears have to be rescued from islands, and sprites et al are helps or hindrances, and the foursome of children new to this world being the mainstays of the quest, and you have what might look a little dated.

However, I’m glad that someone else agrees that fantasy does not have to come in a set of at least three humungous door-stoppers, which take their aeons getting nowhere. This is a self-contained 260 pages, and all the better for it.

I would prefer the saga to have more in the way of twists and turns – there is not a lot of great threat to the main characters, and always someone on hand to lead them out of danger. Then again, it might be preferable to have characters that have to suffer the aches and pains of walking for a day with realism, and not fight their way through hundreds of bad trolls with hardly a raised pulse. The linearity of the book would suit a fable, if not a fantasy – but then, despite the ending, this is not a fable. Also of benefit would have been diversity in approach – the point of view of the baddy included, perhaps, to colour the narrative environment.

To the credit side is the scope of the adventure – underground, aquatic, forested and snowy mountainous locales are all used in an unshowy way, and the variety of drama is added to by the population of the Woodland being able to use magic to shape-shift to forest creatures. Scope only becomes a problem when you begin to feel the author has sat down with a Tolkein bestiary and tried to feature every species of little people (and a few large ones) he could gather – and that’s before the Death Horse.

The novel is well-produced, with what goes down as a great hand-painted artwork for the cover, and I suppose an acceptable level of typos and errors (people entering battle by “waiving their swords” tee-hee…). But with this volume at least there is the potential for it being a success to more than one member of the family, which is why I have it down as fantasy here and not strictly a youngsters’ read. The adult could well enjoy it for an old-fashioned quick fantasy read, featuring no great shocks but an undemanding piece of enjoyment and the younger audience would most probably approve of the depth of the story, if not the slightly dry vocabulary and style. If filmed, it would certainly be a PG.

I don’t want anyone to think this is a perfect success – I can understand the effort needed to turn this into a completely daringly-plotted adventure book would be very daunting, and for a book dedicated to someone called Olivia herself, and targeted at a younger reader, perhaps a different stylistic approach and fewer pages devoted to the mature Woodlanders’ questing might be used. But the book certainly should be considered, and I would definitely recommend it for a refreshingly mature and small launch into a pleasant fantasy world.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Booklists.jpg The Sorcerer's Mirror by Adrian Howard is in the Top Ten Books for Young Readers That Feature a Passage Between Worlds.

You might also enjoy Bone Quill by John Barrowman and Carole E Barrowman.

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