________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.


The Solstice Cup.

Rachel Dunstan Muller.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
169 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-017-6.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Mary Thomas.





Breanne reached down for something at the edge of the dark water. When she stood up again, she was holding something shiny in her fingers.

"Look--it's a ring! It's just like the one I found five years ago!"

"I thought you couldn't remember things clearly that far back," Mackenzie said as she shifted her feet nervously.

"I remember it now," said Breanne. "It was just like this, with a purple stone and all this cool engraving around it. It looks ancient. I bet it's worth a fortune!"

Mackenzie's skin had started to tingle unpleasantly. She stepped back as her sister came up the bank again. "I don't know, Breanne. I have a weird feeling about this. I think you should let it go."

"What do you mean, let it go?" said Breanne. "No way!"
Mackenzie took another step away from the edge of the streambed. "Please, Breanne. Toss it, and let's get out of here!"

"Not this time!"

     Rachel Dunstan Muller has written a good book! I don't recall being as enchanted by a piece of fantasy since I encountered O.R. Melling's The Druid's Tune.

     It is not surprising that I should be reminded of Melling's book, actually, since both are set in Ireland, and both have connections to faeryland. The plots are quite different, however. Here we have a pair of 13-year-old twins sent off to stay in Northern Ireland with an aunt and uncle whom they have not seen since they were eight, but who were available with offers of hospitality when family illness made it imperative that the twins be somewhere close to where their mother was visiting her dying father, but out of the way. Strangely, before that first visit five years ago, Breanne and Mackenzie had been best friends; afterwards, Breanne, suddenly and oddly handicapped by a 'sprain' that refused to heal and left her with a limp, has been at odds with her twin and the world. So here they are back in Ireland and again at a solstice--though winter rather than summer--when, as Aunt Joan tells them, 'the barrier that separates our world and the world of the fair folk is stretched thin.' Breanne scoffs, but Mackenzie is horrified as she sees history repeating itself. Breanne's discovery of the ring beside the stream and her determination to hold on to it result in both being swept off to faeryland! Once there, Breanne's recklessness puts them into mortal danger, and only Mackenzie's enduring love for her difficult twin and the help of a few non-fairy--though in no way ordinary--folk who live in faeryland enable them to escape relatively unharmed.

     The Solstice Cup is a thoroughly satisfying tale where all the protagonists' actions are true to their character and everyone works through difficulties in a completely believable--if fantastical--way. There are magical devices employed, but they require determination and grit for their efficacy. There is no simple waving of a wand that sets all things to rights; Mackenzie must work hard to achieve salvation for both of the sisters.

     There is a nice mix of mythological elements here. The twins are swept to faeryland by running water, lured by faery gold. Faery foods, drink and music have powers of enslavement; woven cloth, bitter berries, and the ties of being 'womb sisters' are the means of escape. And in the end, did it really happen? Was it all a dream brought on by a disorienting mist? Who can say? Who cares! It's a great story!

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas works in an elementary school in Winnipeg, but she has an Irish daughter-in-law who may--or may not!--believe in faeries.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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