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Yesterday's Magic Review

yesterdays-magic-review

In a world five hundred years in the future, under the pall of ash and radiation thrown up by a civilization-destroying nuclear war, the winds of change are upon the land. Magic in the world of Yesterday’s Magic follows cycles of strength and weakness, and the times of Britain half a millennia from now are a time of gathering strength, when King Arthur and Merlin have returned to unite together the once-feuding British people and to bring an age of peace and prosperity. But this noble quest is opposed by Morgan le Fey, the old enemy of Morgan and Arthur, and although laid low before, she isn’t out, and she continues to plot and scheme from the shadows to defeat our heroes.

Pamela F. Service’s sequel to Tomorrow’s Magic has the same simple charm and innocence of her first book in the trilogy. It’s a young adult book, and its cast of characters is simple, its writing style unostentatious, but it’s a comfort to read, its personages simple but human, distinct, alive, and it has a certain bucolic glow at times about the world it describes, or at least a nostalgic sadness in what it became after its destruction. This destruction is the cold centerpiece of the book, and it provides the grey sadness which provides for reflection: of the stark contrast between the world that Arthur and Merlin remembered and the world of the future after the Devastation, a moral comment about the destruction that man can visit unto his home.

My particular favorite character, and one who will stand out in remembering the book, is Blanche the dragon: Service’s book otherwise is charming, sweet, but rarely particularly humorous. Blanche by contrast is such a brilliantly ironic and sarcastic dragon, with a wry dry wit that never fails to amuse. Although the rest of the characters and their quest to recover Helen from her kidnapping by Morgan are a charming and sweet bunch, Blanche is the one who is the real hero’s arc, evolving and growing over the course of the novel into a more compassionate, good, and developed person, as well as her own progress in life.

I quite enjoy the way that magic is treated in the book, delicate tendrils hesitantly popping up, but Heather’s great new gift – her ability to hear the thoughts of other people around the world – is one that is promisingly but not fully exploited. Meeting these people, we don’t know if it was just by happenstance or by some incredible fluke of good fortune: some speculation at least on the subject by Merlin would have been well done. It seems likely that there was some sort of magnetic attraction between the voices and their journey, but without even the idea of this espoused in the book, it makes the world feel so small, so cramped, that wherever they delight that they run into people who they already know. But other elements of magic that are arriving, healing power for animals or the ability to talk to them particularly, and the prejudices against people with magic are a charming and fun part of the book.

One of the elements that I sometimes find exaggerated is the constant comparison to the pre-Devastation days. The days before the Devastation are for the characters of the book, five hundred years in the past, as distant from us as say, Columbus discovering the Americas – and while this is a significant cultural reference, it isn’t something that people think about on a daily basis, as it is portrayed in the book. A few references to set the theme, and particularly from Arthur and Merlin would make sense, but the extent that it is mentioned becomes too clearly for just our own consumption.

Yesterday’s Magic is a young adult book, and generally simple and uncomplicated. But, or perhaps because of this, it makes it into a fun, enjoyable, charming, and sweet book, which combines a balance of irony, sadness, companionability, compassion, and adventure to make a great adventure fantasy novel.

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