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Book 101: Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry

Book 101: Magus of Stonewylde (Stonewylde #1).
Author: Kit Berry, 2005; revised edition 2011.
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy. Paganism. Witchcraft. Coming of Age.
Other Details: Paperback. 341 pages.

Fourteen-year old Sylvie has been hospitalised in London with extreme allergies that appear to be a reaction to the modern world. One of her doctors, Hazel, suggests to Sylvie and her mother Miranda that the girl might benefit from a stay at the alternative community where Hazel was born and raised. Stonewylde is located in a remote area on the Dorset coast and is enclosed behind high boundary walls. Hazel believes that the clean air and green lifestyle practised there could help Sylvie. She introduces them to Magus, the charismatic leader of Stonewylde, and soon mother and daughter are settling in to the community. It all seems very idyllic and Sylvie soon begins to regain her health. Yul, a moody Village boy, is sent to work on their garden as punishment for being rebellious and Sylvie is curious about him. As their forbidden friendship grows she comes to realise that not all is what it seems at Stonewylde.

For a number of years I have heard positive things about Kit Berry's Stonewylde series from various friends in the Pagan community. Then I met Kit at a Pagan Federation Conference in London where she was selling copies of the recently revised editions of the first three books. Kit had initially self-published these and built up a loyal following. Orion Books under their SF/F imprint Gollancz bought the worldwide rights and also commissioned two further books to complete the cycle. We had a nice chat and I bought copies of the first two to get me started.

Just from reading the first book I can certainly appreciate why folk are so passionate about the series. It is a very down to earth style of fantasy and the magic depicted within is linked to the natural world as are the festivals celebrated by the community to honour the Earth Goddess and the Wheel of the Year.

Still it isn't all sweetness and light and the novel does contain some disturbing elements including quite brutal treatment of one of its protagonists. It is testimony to the power of the story that I longed for someone to contact Social Services. As in many cults, even the Pagan/Earth Magic kind proposed here, an iron grip is maintained upon the members so they submit to deeply unfair treatment out of fear of exclusion. I found it a thrilling and moving story that ended on an interesting cliffhanger and I must find out what happens next.

The cover art is beautifully produced and certainly conveys the essence of the novel's themes of ancient magic and nature.

Official Stonewylde site - contains material about the books as well as Kit's writings on the Green Magic that informs the series.
Tags: bildungsroman/coming of age, british, dark fantasy, earth based religion, fantasy, witchcraft, young adult
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