Magus of Stonewylde, by Kit Berry

Article published on September 25, 2011.

Initially self published by the author Kit Berry in 2005 through her self-created Moongazy Publishing, it left her little time to write;  Orion Publishing now having the worldwide rights to the Stonewylde series have (via Gollancz) republished all the books. This is great news, as the pagan based novels are continuing to be discovered by adults and children alike, as its popularity as a cross-over read broadens. Having not read these books before myself, I can say I have also been won over.

Stonewylde is a vast, mysterious place set in Dorset, with boundary walls that keep it separate from the modern world. In essence it is a religious community where the ebb of the natural world is worshipped and magic co-exists. In the most part it appears self-sufficient, with its own spring water supply, stone quarry, woodlands and farms but over the years modern life, business and modern equipment have infiltrated the estate also.

In the first book, you are introduced to Sylvie a fifteen year old girl, who is inexplicably dying in hospital, virtually wasting way, as if allergic to all things around her. Her single mother, Miranda is at her wits’ end, when a doctor at the hospital in noting the distinct silver hair colourings of Sylvie arranges for her to meet Magus the seemingly warm and charismatic leader of the community to offer both mother and daughter the opportunity to live in Stonewylde (as Hall people), which it was felt would give Sylvie the best, if only chance of recovery. Virtuously penniless with the offer of a home, food and a teaching job for Miranda, the offer is too good to refuse.

Life at Stonewylde seems idyllic, although culturally very different from their previous lives and some adjustment is needed and expected. Sylvie quickly begins to recover healed in part by Magus’ magic and both mother and daughter gain a new lease of life.  But slowly it becomes clear that things aren’t as wonderful as at first it had seemed. Villagers are segregated from and kept less well-educated than the Hall people, their lives are rustic and they are not allowed access to the mod cons that the Hall people do. They are disproportionately treated as second class citizens.

As Sylvie develops a forbidden friendship with one of the villagers, Yul, she begins to understand why Magus wanted her to join the community, politically how things work in Stonewylde, who she is, how this makes her special and the destiny she and Yul share – something that Magus will do anything to railroad.

Berry does an excellent job of creating a fantasy world, which she doesn’t over describe, yet still enables the reader to imagine with great clarity; something that can be very difficult to achieve. The writing whilst not simple is neither too complicated either. In all the book is enchanting – a mix of benign and malevolent vivid characters, with its iniquitous leader Magus, and an unfolding story that moves with pace and intrigue. Sometimes a little disturbing, always dramatic;  making it is difficult to put down. Much of what is packed into this story I cannot capture in a review, but you will escape from reality and I do recommend you find out what it’s about for yourself, especially if you enjoy a bit of myth and magic.

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