________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2000

cover The Summer King.

O.R. Melling.
Toronto, ON: Viking/Penguin Books Canada, 1999.
191 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-670-88463-4.

Subject Headings:
Fairies-Ireland-Juvenile fiction.
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.
Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


"Set aside questions of fantasy or reality," the cluricaun suggested. "Act as if you believe and judge the outcome for yourself. That's all we ask. You have nothing to lose."

"And everything to gain . . . " Laurel reasoned thoughtfully.

She was already feeling better. It was simple and practical. And in the end, she might get to see Honor! Laurel sat up straight. Her mind was clear. There was no need to wrestle with bigger issues.

The cluricaun rubbed his hands gleefully when he saw the change in her. He continued in the same no-nonsense manner.

"Your sister has requested entrance to Faerie. Before her untimely death, she was to undertake a mission that would have earned her rights to our country. Alas, since this did not happen, her passport must be won. Will you take on the task on her behalf?"

In this sequel to the 1993 Ruth Schwartz Award winning fantasy, The Hunter's Moon, Melling returns 17-year-old Laurel Blackburn to her grandparent's home in Ireland on the anniversary of the death of her twin, Honor. "I'm the thinker, you're the doer," Honor had always insisted. "Together we make a perfect whole." In the months since Honor's death, Laurel has felt incomplete, left with only her twin's journal of the previous summer filled with "scattered and disjointed" entries about a rich fantasy world filled with mysterious people and an undisclosed mission. After a year "of loss and despair, guilt and mourning," Laurel resolves to investigate her sister's mysterious hang-gliding accident.

To her amazement, Laurel encounters "the roly-poly man", a cluricaun, who tells her that Honor is not in Faerie but "an in-between place. Neither here nor there . . . waiting" for Laurel to finish the mission. "All year she had let herself nurse the idea" of seeing her sister again "as a wishful fantasy. Now it was being presented to her as truth and reality. Terrified by the implications, she backed away;" however, "her dilemma was stark and simple. If there was any chance of seeing her sister again, she would have to accept a world she couldn't possibly believe in." The mission involves finding the Summer King who must light the Midsummer Fire thus forging the "Ring of the Sun, the fiery chain that binds the land of Faerie" to the real world, and freeing Honor to live with her lover in Faerie.

Laurel's seven-day quest takes her to the worlds of legendary Faerie and present-day Ireland, with excursions into the Renaissance era. Conveniently, her grandfather just happens to be a retired professor of folklore who explains that, for "the ancient Irish, Faerie was the place we went to after death." He also just happens to own a cottage on Achill Island where the illusive Hy Brasil, a fairy island that appears once every seven years, is to materialize. There, Laurel pursues her quest, first reluctantly, then lovingly accepting the help of Ian, a strange and unpredictable young man. Among the fairies, gruagachs, and other inhabitants of Faerie, she meets Laheen, King of Birds, Chief of Clan Egli, one of the five ancients of Ireland who explains that "your world and mine are intertwined like a chain. Whatever happens in one, affects the other." Although his clan imprisoned the Summer King 70 years earlier, he urges Laurel to free the Summer King who must light the fire ensuring that "Faerie and Ireland not part ways."

Assisted by Grace, a Renaissance pirate queen, Laurel and Ian plan the rescue; however, Ian inexplicably disappears in the bog only to reappear as the Summer King who had taken Ian's body so he could live in the real world. The King part of the combo refuses to light the fire, thereby provoking war between the clans. Ultimately, Ian's love for Laurel overpowers the Summer King's evil, and Ian lights the fire thus uniting the fairy clans, freeing Honor, and reuniting Laurel with her sister for a final farewell. If Ian/King is "to live in one world" he "must die in the other." He plans to return to Faerie; however, Laurel believes he has "a duty to live" so she rescues him because "love had always been at the heart."

The conventions of fantasy have been meticulously maintained in Melling's story. The quest is noble, the protagonist is worthy, the trials hasten her maturity, the antagonists are appropriately villainous, good overcomes evil in the obligatory struggle, and love triumphs. The dualities of life - love and hate, good and evil, light and dark, innocence and guilt, reality and appearance, heroism and cowardice, determination and vacillation, order and anarchy, mortality and immortality - are the essence of fantasy. Melling's characters exhibit many of these dichotomies yet mercifully speak in everyday English, albeit with an Irish flavour. A glossary supplies the pronunciation and meaning of the Gaelic words, phrases, and poetry that are scattered throughout the text, and a map delineates the geographical setting.

Fantasy requires the reader to follow the cluricaun's advice and "act as if you believe and judge the outcome." Fans of the genre should find The Summer King a compelling and satisfying read.


Darleen Golke works as the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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