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Prospero's Children by Jan Siegel

Review by Ariella

Del Rey Hardcover - 368 pages; ISBN: 0345439015; US List Price $24.00, Amazon Price $16.80.

This is Siegel's debut novel, and is book one in a planned, untitled trilogy. The second installment, The Dragon Charmer, is scheduled for an October, 2000 release in the U.K. but I have not yet found a U.S. release date through March, 2001. It is available for preorder through amazon.co.uk.

The Jacket Text
"A young girl who is more than she knows.
A man who is more than he seems.
A beautiful woman in love with death.
An evil older than mankind.
All in search of a magical key that will open a door leading beyond time and space to the ending of all things…

It began ages past in fabled Atlantis, when a mad, power-hungry queen forged a key to a door never meant to be opened by mortal man – its inception would hasten her own death and the extinction of her vainglorious race. For millennia the key lay forgotten beneath the waves, lost amid the ruins of what had been the most beautiful city on Earth. But however jealously the sea hoards its secrets, sooner or later it yields them up. Now, in present-day Yorkshire, that time has come. And for young Fernanda Capel, life will never be the same again."

The Characters
The main character is sixteen year old Fernanda Capel, a model child. She’s responsible, practical, intelligent, sensible, well behaved. She prefers to be called Fern; Fernanda, she feels, sounds too exotic for a proper English girl. Since the death of her mother six years ago, it is Fern who has looked after both her father Robin and her twelve-year-old brother Will. Other major characters are Alison, a beautiful coworker of Robin’s who seems to have a much more personal interest in him; the suave, worldly Javier, Robin’s agent (he writes books on withcraft); Ragginbone, a mysterious tramp the children meet in Yorkshire; and Lougarry, a stray dog who is far more than she seems.

The World
The story takes place mostly in modern day Yorkshire, England, with some scenes in London. The story also takes us back thousands of years to the lost city-state of Atlantis, in what is called the Forbidden Past.

The Plot
When Robin Capel inherits a run-down house in rural Yorkshire, practical young Fern's immediate thought is to sell it off as soon as possible. But her father insists on seeing it, and before she knows it, Fern is pulled out of her comfortable routine in London and thrown into a summer adventure that will forever change her concept of reality. For Robin's old seafaring uncle left his heirs more than they knew. Hidden somewhere in the house is a key from drowned Atlantis, a key that can unlock the Gate of Death itself. And the last remnants of the people of Atlantis, called Propsero's Children, are looking for it. Fern learns that she too is descended from the folk of Atlantis and possesses the Gift, paranormal abilities some might call magical powers. If the key falls into the wrong hands, it could do great harm. Fern and her brother must find it first, aided by the kindly but powerless Ragginbone and guarded by the wolfish stray dog Lougarry. But both Alison and Javier want it too, and the only way to save the present eventually lies in the Forbidden Past.

The Grade
This is a wonderful debut for Siegel, who has created a charming fantasy that feels somewhat like a cross between C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and something by Tanith Lee. Like Fern, the book wavers just on the brink of being truly adult but strays back into childhood on occasion. At one moment, it feels like your old favorite bedtime story; in the next paragraph, hard choices and very grown up power struggles take center stage. Siegel's writing is descriptive and smooth, and she gives fresh, unexpected twists to various fantasy staples: a bloodthirsty mermaid; a shy hobgoblin; a paladin-like werewolf. Very little in this book is exactly as it seems at first glance, making for a story line that really holds the reader's interest from start to finish. The story is familiar and yet new, a truly entertaining and engaging tale. Part coming of age story, part time traveling mystery, and part good old-fashioned fantasy yarn, Prospero's Children is quite simply a darn good read. I give it 4.5 out of 5 amulets and highly recommend it.

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