(HarperCollins, £6.99, 310 pages, paperback, first published
2002, this edition published 6 January 2003.)
After the unengaging middle book of the trilogy, The Dragon-Charmer,
I wasn't greatly looking forward to this, the last book
telling the story of Fern Capel, one of Prospero's Children gifted with
magical abilities. However, the central part of a story is often the
hardest in which to maintain the reader's interest, so I approached
the novel with cautious optimism.
As it turned out, however, this book saw a definite improvement in
many areas - I found the story far more engaging. The return of the
witch Morgus and her search for protagonist Fern provides a much-needed
sense of pace and urgency. Unlike her initial attempts to ignore her
gift in the previous book, Fern is on the offensive from the start,
actively seeking a way to defeat her foe. Purely in terms of technical
skill, the book is well-written and interesting. The various plot threads
left hanging from the previous books - Fern's bargain with Kal, Will
and Gaenor's relationship and so on, all re-emerge to be resolved.
However, even though it is ostensibly our own, the world that the human
characters live in is stranger to me than the world of magic, witches
and lost civilizations. Those at least I have visited many times through
many tales, but the cynical, high-flying life of Fern, Lucas and the
other characters seems to me unfamiliar and unwelcoming. It reminded
me a little of what I've seen of BBC's recent drama Hustle about
a group of con artists in London, only without the televisual veneer
of "coolness". A streak of pessimism runs through the book - I hope
that the cold, unpleasant human world the author shows us here does
not really exist, or at least, that I never have to visit it for long.
Given the supposed indestructibility of the mad, bad villainess Morgus,
her inevitable defeat comes with almost indecent haste and speed once
the confrontation arrives. The ending is cleverly set up - unforeseen
by this reader at least, yet foreshadowed without seeming contrived.
Morgus is arguably a mere distraction from the real climax, and despite
being suitably, well, climactic, the ending is far from happy or uplifting.
While I wouldn't wish the story to go for a pat, happily-ever-after
ending, the decision Fern makes at the end seems dangerously close to
giving up. The ending can best be summed up as "unsatisfactory",
having neither uplifting warmth nor tragic power. It seems almost as
if there should be another book to follow, but unfortunately, on the
basis of this trilogy, I myself would not be rushing out to read it.
A cynical fairy-tale? Bleugh.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: