________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 25. . . .March 4th, 2011.


The Darkening. (The Divided Realms, Book 2).

Maggie L. Wood.
Montréal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2011.
285 pp., pbk, $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-77080-072-4.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4



Dacia touched her cheek. “Forgive me. I was forbidden to explain the Menagerie Game to you.”

“Game?” Willow pushed Dacia?s hand away. “What do you mean Game?”

“The Menagerie is a Game. A Game of terror and fear and - pain.”

“I-I don’t understand. Those tigers were real. They-they-I felt them.” Dacia slipped to the edge of Willow’s stone bed. A wall lined with shelves swam into view.

Dacia pulled something from a high shelf and brought it to Willow.

Cold. The object Dacia placed in Willow’s hand was cold as ice, and heavy. Willow stared at it. Shiny cat eyes stared back. Encased in a crystal ball that resembled a snow globe crouched a black panther, teeth bared, one clawed paw ready to strike. Willow tilted the globe’s golden base. No sparkly snow. Only a viscous green mist surrounded the cat. “I don’t understand.” She returned the globe to Dacia. “What is this thing?”

“This is how we play Games.” Dacia’s finger traced over the markings on the globe’s stand. “In the courts of Dark, Games are played in the mind, not body. No death. But fear and pain as real as death.” Her eyes grew large and luminous. “My brother Nezeral placed me and Theon in the Menagerie Game when we were children. The cats devoured us many times before he released us.”

In this second book of “The Divided Realm” series, previously published as The Princess Mage, Willow and her protector knight, Brand, are sent from Mistolear to the faerie court, supposedly to observe a Game. There, King Jarlath, Nezeral’s father, imprisons them like animals in his Menagerie, where cats attack them. Jarlath’s twin children, Dacia and Theon, help them and then are sent with them (and without their faerie powers) into another Game with only one human power among them, Willow’s power to heal.

     They play the Goblin King’s Gauntlet, in which they must follow a forest path to the Goblin King who will decide when to release them from the game. The Unseelie hordes (goblins, kelpies, banshees, bogles and the demi-fey) lead horrifying attacks against them and kill them again and again after they are restored by Willow's healing power. Willow removes the black thorns of evil in the hearts of the goblins and phookas, gains the Goblin King’s approval, and wins the Game. She takes Theon back to Mistolear under pain of torture by Jarlath. Brand is jealous of Theon and cool to Willow, but the young goblin prince, Pitt, comes to Mistolear to protect Willow and keep an eye on Theon. The stage is set for the third book in the series as the duplicitous Dacia drifts invisibly into Mistolear and prepares to grasp power by invading Brand’s dreams.

     Willow is the quintessential fantasy heroine, a brave, clever, compassionate young woman determined to turn the Balance towards good and away from evil. She takes on challenging tasks that are outside of her comfort zone in order to help and protect her mother and Nezeral, not to mention the realm of Mistolear. Although she is terrified of the faerie king and his court, she accepts their Game. It is Willow’s compassion for the dying goblin children that leads her to remove the black thorns of evil from their hearts. Her belief that all beings are equal is one of the main themes of this novel. Willow is an engaging character, too, as her self-deprecating self talk and attraction to both Brand and Theon present her as a typical teenage girl.

     Brand is a dyed in the wool romantic, taking on the role of White Knight, Willow’s protector. He loves Willow deeply and is committed to an old fashioned courtly relationship, which is reflected in his speech patterns, his action-oriented behaviour and his embarrassment over Willow’s scanty wardrobe.

     The immortal twin faeries, Dacia and Theon, have an ethereal human look, but their true beliefs about relationships, power and their place in the universe differ substantially from human views. They are haughty, smug characters that place themselves above all others and are oblivious to the pain and destruction they leave in their wake.

     The Unseelie hordes are a truly terrifying vision of Irish legend steeped in evil that can be affected only by true goodness. The intended reader will be fascinated by these ugly characters that verge on horror.

     The chess theme that dominated the first book in this series takes a back seat in this novel to the cold viciousness of the faeries’ Games and the necessity of keeping the Balance in the universe so that the pendulum does not swing too far either way. This novel has a wider vision of how beings, human or other, influence not only their immediate situations but also the long term pattern of the Universe.

     The typical court scenes will delight the usual fantasy reader, but it is the wild forest and the Menagerie scenes that will keep the heart of the reader pumping and the pages turning. The astute reader will be tingling with the dramatic irony of how Dacia is hiding her true nature from both the humans and her own family. The ending of this novel demands a sequel while the dramatic black and red cover will draw readers in.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

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