Rough Magic, by Caryl Cude Mullin

Rough Magic, by Caryl Cude Mullin (2009, Second Story Press, YA, 264 pages) is a powerful reimagining of the story of The Tempest. It is a story not just of characters from that play--the witch, Sycorax, and Caliban her son, Prospero and Miranda, Ariel the spirit--but also tells what happens next, when two young girls from the next generation meet on the same enchanted island where The Tempest takes place.

The story begins with Sycorax, the witch. At first she is a girl full of love and hope, with magical gifts greater than anyone has known. But Sycorax throws her life away for love, a terrible choice that will drive her into madness, and shadow the life of her son, Caliban. Banished by her prince to a barren island, Sycorax thirsts for revenge. The island has its own strong, rough magic, and Sycorax craves it. But in seizing its power, she seals her terrible fate....

Caliban, left alone when his mother dies, rejects the staff into which she had poured the island's magic, giving it to the next castaway to arrive--Prospero, with young Miranda in tow. But the twisted hatred of Sycorax lives on, and it falls to Miranda's daughter, Chiara, to find her own power, and bring peace and healing to the island, its restless spirits, and Caliban himself.

Rough Magic is told from several points of view, and spans decades--two things that make me wary. I'm never quite sure whether I'll loose interest or not when so much time passes, and characters come and go. But I found myself absorbed from beginning to end. There was thematic cohesion, and there was cohesion to the plot--it was necessary that time should pass, and new characters to emerge.

One the other hand, the long passage of time did mean that there was a certain amount of "time passing just because," where little story development happened...and periods, as well (like Prospero's time on the island) that seem somewhat perfunctorily told (in a sort of "it has to be there, but it's not the central story" way) and this does drag the book down somewhat. And the new characters introduced in the book's second half never got quite enough page time to become fully real to me.

But for me, the power of this book (and I did find it rather powerful) came from the character of Caliban. It is Caliban's voice, his life (twisted, but not without love) and his choices, that are at the heart of the book. Yes, Chiara's a strong character who finds her own magical powers (as is Sycorax, for that matter), but Caliban is a figure both pitiable and strong. (Prospero, on the other hand, is a jerk).

Here are some other reviews of Rough Magic, at Steph Su Reads, and Feminist Review. I'm curious now--I liked this one, and found it a gripping read; these two reviewers didn't like it. Anyone else read it and have an opinion?

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


  1. Hmmm. Since I LOVE The Tempest I have a yen to read this one -- and boy, the two reviewers do seem to have opposing views. Intriguing!

  2. Yes, it's on my TBR stack--To Be Reviewed! I agree that the pacing was on the draggy side, but the portrayal of Caliban (and of the entire Tempest story) was interesting.

  3. Thanks for the review. I'm not sure if I want to read this one.

  4. I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I read and reviewed this book recently on my blog, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was impressed with the way the story was told, especially since telling a story that spans multiple generations isn't always an easy feat. I'm hoping to see more by this author in the future.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles