Book Review: Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela Service
I have a deep love for Arthurian legend. Through my teens years it was a passing love affair but when the United Kingdom BBC TV show Merlin came out it put a fire under me that energized my interest anew. Now I consume books about King Arthur and the powerful wizard Merlin. It doesn’t always have to be the old man with the long beard I read about either. It surprised me how many books were available that covered Merlin’s fictional younger years or presented the popular magic-user as younger than the legend would have us envision. I’m not the only one obsessed with the legend it seems.
Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela Service takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity barely hangs on. Nuclear war and the resulting endless winter have killed most life on our world and the radiation has caused most of those who survive to mutate. This world’s wildlife is nothing we would recognize and those unfortunate humans that mutated don’t even bear thinking about. But there are pockets of life that remain and one such pocket is in Wales, in the southwest of what was the United Kingdom.
The children of the rich and powerful attend a boarding school there in an old monastery huddled against the endless cold. Welly and Heather are two such children, living through their days as social outcasts and the only friend each other has. That was until they met Earl, the boy found wondering a ruined village and babbling a strange language no one could understand. Earl lives at the school as a ward, with no family and no memory of his past. But the boy may be more than he seems.
I always feel so silly going into the children’s section of the library after some book but, more often than not, those books are some of my favorites. Winter of Magic’s Return is part of the New Magic Trilogy and is about 200 pages long. A quick afternoon’s read for most of us. I may have found it in the children’s section but that by no means reflects in the book. The story is fast paced and interesting. The world Pamela Service builds for us is ruined and filled with sorrow but it is the only world that the children know. They have never seen summer and the only green things there are the lichen that stubbornly clings to the rocks. (The moral lesson of responsibility for our planet and human stupidity are painted in large neon letters in this book.)
Talking too much about the story will give away the plot and I don’t want to ruin the book for everyone. But since it involves Arthurian legend, you can be assured that Merlin and Arthur are both running around somewhere. Merlin is who you think he is. Arthur, however, is not. I was so sure I knew who Arthur was that when he did arrive on the scene I was a bit shocked. I was expecting Arthur reborn to be one of the original characters but that is not the route the author takes. It will be interesting to see what part Welly and Heather play in the next book.
I often find original characters in these types of stories to be fairly useless. After all, what use could two ordinary children be to Merlin reborn? But in this case the children are our eyes and ears in this story. They play the facsimile for the reader. They are us. And these two children support Merlin, acting as companions for the displaced sorcerer. They are not great warriors but they are true friends. Welly and Heather willingly follow Earl, before he remembered who he was, out into the wilderness and leave the relative safety of the school for him. They make many sacrifices for their friendship.
Morgan Le Fey appears as the villain in this story, using the mutated life to amass an army that attacks the children. Her true goal is not made apparent by the end of the book. Although, her goal may be as simple as world domination. (I’ll be a bit disappointed if it is.) The witch does her best to ensure Merlin never reaches Arthur but fails. The saddest part of the book is when they reach Avalon, a land of eternal summer. Welly and Heather have never seen summer and their reactions are heartbreaking. To them it is the dream, while Merlin and Arthur know it to be reality. Would a person that has lived in a desert their whole life understand a description of snow?
I’m told the second book, Tomorrow’s Magic, is slower than this one but I still look forward to reading it. My only real complaint is that the book should have been proofread a little better. There was several times where dialogue was not punctuated properly, often leaving off quotation marks. I’m sure you know how confusing that is. But it seems to be the books only fault.