________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 1999

cover The Taker's Key.

Martine Bates.
Red Deer, AB: Red Deer College Press (Distributed by Raincoast Books), 1998.
186 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88995-184-5.

Subject Headings:
Magic-Juvenile fiction.
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.
Dragons-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Tom Knutson.

*** /4


[Marwen] had read about the Key in her father's journal, and [her father] Nimroth had read about it in strange and rare places. The Key, he said, gave a magic that every Wizard had dreamed of, and none had been able to possess. The Key gave the making magic. The changing magic took the essence of one thing and transformed it into another. But the making magic of the Key was to create that which did not exist, except perhaps in the imagination. The making magic made that for which there was no spell. Nimroth had collected some bits of lore and song and included them in his writings, but not enough. "The Oldwives will know of the Key," he had written in one of his last entries. "The Oldwives guard their lore like jewels, for they know their worth, and the Key is surely hidden there, in their secret tales and stories."

So Marwen went from village to village, working for a day in exchange for a place at the storyfire. According to Camlach it was this search for stories of the Key that was making her ill. "It is the only symbol left in your tapestry," he had said. "You have a lifetime to look for it." But Marwen felt a sense of urgency that she could not explain. She had never heard of such a thing before. Strange that she, who could not summon the changing magic common to a Wizard, should of all people be promised the making magic.

In part three of the "Marmawell Trilogy," Marwen the Wizard's need to find the elusive Taker's Key is heightened by the facts that the land of Ve is in the grips of a mysterious drought and the magic of Ve is gradually dissipating. Without magic, the spell that hides the land and its people from outside enemies will no longer exist.
     While searching for her young apprentice, Tiu, who has disappeared into the forbidden borderlands that separate life and death, Marwen encounters a strange mist that neither she nor her companion, Manape of Southruin, have seen before. But Marwen "knew before she tasted, knew by the coldness that ran between her fingers like ice water, what it was. 'Dragon,' she said." Marwen begins to suspect that Perdoneg the Dragon is responsible for the evil mantle that has fallen over Ve, that his magical powers must somehow be transcending the imprisonment cast upon him earlier by the wizard Morda-Hon.
     Marwen's only hope of defeating the dragon is to obtain the Key. But does the Key actually exist? It must, as it has been woven into her own tapestry and is, therefore, part of her destiny. Accompanied by the Oldwives of the Coven and using their lore and stories for guidance, Marwen sets off across the borderlands to the mountains where Perdoneg lies waiting for her in his prison.
     The Taker's Key, along with The Dragon's Tapestry and The Prism Moon, completes a fine trilogy that, rather than relying on battle scenes and fast paced action to move the plot forward, builds a rich tale based on medieval-like traditions and folklore, the power of storytelling, and journeys of personal discovery. Occasionally the dialogue fails to reflect the emotion and character of the speaker, but this limitation is compensated by the attention paid to description of both characters and setting. At the beginning of each chapter, short passages from "old songs and writings" help create the picture of a long-established society in which customs and conventions are strongly observed.
     While The Taker's Key is a satisfying read by itself, it is the background revealed in the first two books that makes the conclusion of the tale of Marmawell more vivid and complete. With its predominantly female characters, the "Marmawell Trilogy" is an especially good introduction to the fantasy genre for young women. However, Bates successfully weaves together traditional fantasy elements (magic, dragons), an imaginative plot and solid writing in a story that will hook many teens of either gender in grade eight and up.


Tom Knutson, a Children's Librarian with Vancouver Public Library, is Vice-Chair of the Young Adult and Children's Services (YAACS) section of the British Columbia Library Association.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364