A Wilder Magic, by Juliana Brandt

I have been so tired and distracted these past few weeks, getting two kids off to school (one in Ireland, one in New York), which has involved a great deal of effort, fuss, and soul-killing worry...so though I've read a lot of great books recently, I haven't gotten to writing reviews for a while.  Which is distressing, because they were great books!  So I am turning from all my usual distractions to actually write a post for one I haven't seen any other blog reviews of yet-- A Wilder Magic, by Juliana Brandt (middle grade, May 2021, Sourcebooks).

Sybaline's family has lived in their Appalachian valley for generations.  It's no ordinary valley, but one infused with magic that has become entwined with the family.  They draw on the magic to help the course of nature along, working with it to grow and to heal.  But their valley is doomed.  The Tennessee Valley Authority is building a hydroelectric dam that will flood it, and they must move.  This won't just destroy their homes and cemeteries and other beloved places, but will sunder them from the magic...

And so Sybaline says no.  

Drawing on magic to work against the course of nature has consequences; serious ones, that ended up turning her grandfather into a tree, for instance.  But Sybaline is blinded by desperation, and so instead of leaving, she goes down into the valley and raises a wall of water around it, creating a place where she and her cousin Nettle can live.  

Things don't go as Sybaline expected.  At first there is food and shelter, but as the water keeps rising, a design flaw emerges.  Sybaline has magiced up not walls, but a dome...and when the water covers the dome, the two girls are plunged into the darkness one finds at the bottom of a deep lake.  They are not in a sanctuary, but in a trap, and to make matters worse, three other kids got stuck inside too.

Stuck in the dark, with a limited food supply, water being pushed up by the outside pressure through the ground, and the cold becoming increasingly severe, it is clear that they must escape.  But in order to break the magic, Sybaline and Nettle must draw on all the magic of the valley they can, even though there already signs that the magic is transforming them...

I am a huge fan of survival stories, and though "survival story" is perhaps not the main point of the book, it is still one that will appeal lots to fellow fans. All the elements I enjoy are here--the food foraging, the group figuring out how to work together, the growing anxiety and desperation...and the magical twist that has put the kids into this situation makes it especially interesting!

Thematically it is more than "survival story." It's a story of growing-up, of learning to be answerable to your powers, to face fears and uncertainties instead of running backwards to avoid them.  It hurt to see Sybaline dealing with the lose of childhood security (made even more painful by her father being off in the war), but this hurt was soothed by her arrival at acceptance, and a reassurance that family was still family.  It's also a story of living in balance with the natural world (complicated in this case by the natural world being magic).

I enjoyed Julian Brandt's debut, The Wolf of Cape Fen (my review), very much, and this one did not disappoint!

nb:  A Wilder Magic is one of the many great elementary/middle grade specultative fiction eligible for the Cybils Awards this year; come join the Cybils team as an EMG Spec Fic panelist to read lots of them and try to pick which ones have the most kid appeal and literary merit combined in one package!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Free Blog Counter

Button styles