Friday, September 12, 2008

Beyond this Fine Façade: A Review of Kit Berry’s Magus of Stonewylde (Moongazy Publishing, 2005, www.stonewylde.com)

The marketing verbiage for this book, the first in a series of five planned novels in the Stonewylde series (two others have already been published), states: “Not thriller, nor fantasy, nor romance. Yet all of these and so much more.”

Although seasoned readers and reviewers learn to not spend too much thought or energy on short, powerful statements designed to spark interest and excitement, in this case, the cross-genre aspects of this book make it both noteworthy and worth a read. Berry has rendered the boundaries of several genres invisible, pulling elements from each to build her vivid world, and still manages to present a tight, well-crafted story. At 304 pages, Magus of Stonewylde is a quick, page-turning read.

Stonewylde is a fascinating place—a closed community in England, where the fair-haired, fair-eyed Hallfolk are supported by the working-class, peasant Villagers. Structured around the eight pagan festivals that mark the cycles of the year, Stonewylde seems to offer a remedy to the fast-paced, impersonal, material world. It is a place of great power and healing, full of wizards and shamans. A place where sexual intercourse is a path to the Goddess. A place where the Ancient Ways are alive and somewhat well.

If much of this sounds familiar, from both page and screen, keep reading—Berry brings plenty that is fresh and new to the table. Stonewylde is a garden teeming with Evil. Among her beautiful rock formations, ceremonial fields, and deep woods are dark energies and a past of twisted secrets. Berry teases us, as a good author does, with bits of information and history that will guarantee we come back to visit Stonewylde in the subsequent books.

I found myself deeply interested in the characters, even going so far as to scribble expletives and less than flattering monikers for some of the less likable ones in the margins.

Be prepared to be pissed off (and I mean that as a selling point of the book)—the teenagers are vacillating, ego-maniacal, and as quick to tease and scheme as any teenagers I’ve ever met on the page (they’re very realistic)… and the “adults” are something to behold—those who should Protect inflict the greatest Hurt and their actions are often shockingly ignorant and cruel. I found myself pushing other things back so I could read “a few more pages” to find out just when those actions would be paid back in kind. I know of no better compliment than that.

Berry really does have a knack for creating multidimensional and moving characters. She has succeeded with the simple formula so many writers fail to make work—she has done her research to create a well-painted environment easy to enter and explore; she has populated it with characters that jump off the page with their humanness, for good and for bad—often in the same character; and she has energized it all with the key themes that resonate most with readers—Love, Power, Violence, Secrecy, and Destiny.

Magus of Stonewylde has wide appeal—for those still lamenting the end of the Harry Potter series, this is a magical world populated with the types of quirky teens and scheming adults that made those books such a success; for those who are interested in or practitioners of pagan/wiccan rites, this is a place custom-made for you to visit; and for those who just plain love a good story, with excellent pace and plenty of blood-rising action, you can’t do much better.

I look forward to exploring more of Stonewylde—Kit Berry is an author that will no doubt be enjoying a continual increase in readership and accolades.

I highly recommend visiting www.stonewylde.com. It is one of the better small press author websites I’ve come across. There is plenty of information on the author and books, including an interesting biography and a list of print, signing, and radio appearances, an online store where you can get Stonewylde merchandise, and synopses of the other books.