Friendly pirates, malicious magicians and imaginative geography make this middle-grade series starter fun and even a bit thought-provoking.
The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers. Henry Holt, 2016, 311 pages
Reading level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10 and up
As a small child, Brine was found in a rowboat at sea. Now 12, she remembers nothing of her life before she came to work as a drudge in the house of a second-rate magician. Peter is an apprentice of said magician, and though Brine and Peter irritate each other, unappealing future prospects compel them to undertake an escape attempt that could have led to even worse future prospects. Instead they are captured by the legendary pirate queen Cassie O’Pia (the author has a lot of fun with character names)—legendary, in part, because Captain Cassie destroyed the evil magician Marfak West along with his ship. But in a shocking twist, West turns up alive and bent on revenge. He also has a plan: head toward Magical North (near compass and geographical North), secure an intact starshell (the source of magic), and destroy all legends save his own.
There’s a lot crammed into these pages–the action is pretty much nonstop and yet there’s room for thoughtful dialogue about magic and stories. Magic is not a vague spiritual power but a natural force to be mastered by those who have a special sensitivity to it. Stories are both a safeguard against excess and a source of inspiration, precious enough to be guarded on the island of Barnard’s Reach, where no men are supposed to set foot. Marfak West knows that he who controls the stories essentially controls the world, and to him it seems far more expedient just to do away with them: “Legends are stories, and stories are lies. We’re better off without them. Magic exists to be used. Used by people like me . . .” This could be seen as a comment on human experience vs. science, but open to other interpretations—or no interpretation but rollicking good adventure, almost certainly with a sequel on the way.
Overall rating: 4.75 (out of 5)