________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 18 . . . . May 11, 2001

cover A Riddle of Roses.

Caryl Cude Mullin.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2000.
222 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-896764-28-2.

Subject Headings:
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.
Avalon (Legendary place)-Juvenile fiction.
Bards and bardism-Juvenile fiction.
Mythology, Celtic-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Christina Pike.

*** /4


"So you're saying that I have to choose, aren't you?" Meryl said bitterly. "I can either stay and rot in suspension, or I leave and never have the right to return. It doesn't sound like much of a choice to me."

"Oh, there is a choice, child, but the options are not as you see them. If you stay you will become a Master one day, for you have great ability." The Mistress stared shrewdly at Meryl. "But I do not think that a life of copying texts, or caring for a herb patch, or telling the same stories to the same group of people year after year would grant you much pleasure."

A Riddle of Roses tells the story of a young girl, Meryl, and her quest to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a great musician and story teller, in short, a bard. Leaving the only home she has ever known, The Hall, Meryl sets out on a journey. Her first trial as a bard is not as successful as she originally thought it would be, but a gift from a new friend gives her her symbol, a rose. On the next leg of her journey, she stumbles accidently upon a draoi named Halstatt who has the ability to answer any question. She learns that he once was the owner of the rose that Taliesin, one of the greatest bards that ever lived, claimed as his own. In search of Taliesin's rose and the truth, Meryl and Halstatt set out for Avalon together. Things, however, do not go smoothly and they jump on the Way, a fairy road that connects all of the fairy's dwellings and dancing greens, to quicken their path. Meryl unknowingly commits a serious crime by bringing iron on the way. They are brought before the King to be judged and are ordered to travel to Avalon to receive judgement from the Queen. They are led off the Way by their guide, Leaflighter to take part in a joke or, as Leaflighter refers to it, a ponder. Leaflighter is hurt, and things are put temporarily on hold until her recovery. Several other characters join Meryl and Halstatt on the journey, and, as they wait on the shore overlooking the island of Avalon, Meryl faces one challenge after another. Her final challenge lies in her decision of whether or not to hasten her education to becoming a bard and risk insanity by drinking from the cauldron of Ceridwen.

      This is Caryl Cude Mullin's first novel. She spins a tale that is as believable as the world she creates is fantastical. Her attention to detail allows the reader to envision these places. Her characters are real, complete with faults, and their words believable. The exchanges between Meryl and Halstatt are both humourous and entertaining. Finally, the story, itself, is much more than a quest to become a bard but a journey to discover one's true self and what is truly important. Mullin does not allow her main character to take the easy way out and be done with it. Instead, the reader shares in Meryl's indecision and the agony of both paths. The decision that Meryl makes, as a result, is surprising. The only criticism I would venture to make is whether or not is necessary. Does she really need proof of what has been evident from the beginning - that is - that she is her mother's daughter. A good read.


Christina Pike is an English teacher and Resource Person at Ascension Collegiate, Bay Roberts, NF.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364