Wednesday, April 29, 2009

“Cruelty Beneath the Moon”: A Review of Kit Berry’s Moondance of Stonewylde

(Moongazy Publishing, 2006, www.stonewylde.com)

Last year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Magus of Stonewylde, Book One of the Stonewylde series. The seemingly idyllic pagan community that serves as the stage for this engaging series is populated with heroes and heroines, shamans and witches, Villagers and Hallfolk, all partaking in the eight festivals that mark the cycles of the year in pagan practice.

At the center of Stonewylde is the all-powerful and charming Magus, against whom is set the series’ hero—a teenager named Yul, who shares in a star-crossed love with the very complicated and unique Sylvie, whose arrival and adjustment to Stonewylde were central to Magus.

Moondance of Stonewylde succeeds in the many ways I mentioned in my review of Magus, and builds on that success in several new aspects. Berry goes into great detail about the daily and seasonal workings of the community in the sequel, covering everything from the harvesting of apples and the making of cider to the harvesting of flax and its conversion to linen cloth, weaving the details into the fabric of the characters’ lives with a seamless, impressive style.

Berry introduces a colorful old professor and presents a Prophecy through rival witches to share with the reader bits and pieces of the dark history of Stonewylde. For readers of Magus, you will learn just enough about the powerful central family and their extended family tree to make you rush out to buy the next book in the series, Solstice at Stonewylde.

Although the Stonewylde series is primarily about the life and practices of those in the pagan community, illuminating such aspects as the intricacies of pagan lore and ritual, the Triple Goddess, the Green Man, earth and moon magic, and the meanings behind the festivals, the books have a much broader appeal.

To begin with, they are tightly written. Berry unfolds the larger story with a skill reminiscent of J.K. Rowling and uses literary devices like alliteration and word play to great effect.

The true strength of these books, though, to me, is the depth and complexity of the characters. It has been a long time since a group of characters have evoked such a consistent emotional response. Like I did with the first book, I scrawled expletives in the margins to release some emotion as the antagonists (and some of the protagonists) wreaked their havoc, either intentionally or unintentionally.

And the cruelty in these books really knows no bounds, especially when it comes at the hands (or minds) of parents toward their children, a theme that runs through the book like a sinister stream through a field of fragile flowers.

Like Magus, Moondance ends with a cliffhanger so compelling that I cannot imagine a reader not wanting to pick up the next book as soon as they can. I know I will.

I highly recommend visiting www.stonewylde.com. 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. You can also become a member of the Stonewylde online community (www.stonewylde.net), where you can create a profile, write blogs, and engage with the growing numbers of enthusiastic readers of this powerful series.