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Tartan Magic

Reviewed: February 9, 2006
By: a trilogy by Jane Yolen
Publisher: Magic Carpet Books - Harcourt, Inc.
Each book costs, $7.95

Given the fantasy worldís fondness for trilogies, itís no wonder that Jane Yolenís latest work for middle readers has been issued in three slender volumes. Be that as it may, the stories that are contained in The Wizardís Map ( 156 pages), The Pictish Child (146 pages ) and The Bagpiperís Ghost† (144 pages) take place in the space of one holiday trip to Scotland. Each follows close upon the heels of the one before, with only a few days passing in between.

The framework of the stories is somewhat similar to what Andrea Spalding has been doing with her Summer of Magic Quartet, except that itís an American family visiting Scotland instead of a Canadian family visiting England.

The central character in the story is 13 year old Jennifer. We have the strongest emotional link with her and we share her reflections on the events which shape the familyís life while they are visiting her motherís older cousins. She is experiencing problems coping with her twin brother, Peter. they have always been close, but as they are moving into their teen years, that closeness seems to be breaking down.

With them they have Molly, their 4 year sister, and their mom and dad, although these two donít play much of a part in the stories. Of greater importance are Gran and Da, the cousins who had looked after their mom when she was younger.

As the stories progress it emerges that Gran is what we might call a White Witch, a practitioner of benign magiks. As a result there are a number of artifacts around the house that lead to adventures. The first is the map of book oneís title, a map belonging to Michael Scot (an actual figure out of Scottish history). Peter is possessed by Scotís restless spirit, the family is captured, and itís up to Jennifer to figure out how to rescue them. I wonít tell you how, but she ends up with a talking horse and dog at the end of that story.

In the second adventure, a few days later, the chance (or is it?) gift of an ancient stone to Molly by one of Granís friends triggers the arrival of a ghost out of Scotlandís 9th century Pictish past and turns out to be the sign of a very real modern plot to assume control of the eldersí ancient powers by an impatient younger woman. Mystic energies chase Gran and the children about the community and into their house before they can figure out what to do, how to quell the outbreak and defeat the instigator of the problem.

In the final story the talking dog leads the twins into a graveyard with tales of ghostly visitors and gets them involved in a centuries old Romeo and Juliet story.

Yolen plays with the idea that there a different types of magic for different places. Gran and others in these stories, as well as the problems faced by Jennifer and her siblings, are representative of old magic. The solutions to the problems, as found by Jennifer, often involve a bit of New World ingenuity, as the twins, in particular, have to come up with new ways of solving old dilemmas.

Peter is less of a problem solver in these adventures. He is twice possessed by restless spirits and becomes part of the problem himself. Molly is really too young to be really active in the adventures, though she is the one who gets the special stone which triggers events in book two.

Once the horse and the dog come into the story, about midway through book one, they become important players in the stories which follow, contributing both positively and negatively to the outcomes.

I was charmed by the fact that all of this adventure took place during a holiday, the way such stories always took place in the Enid Blyton novels I read as a child. If that pattern were to be followed, jennifer and her family could easily have some further adventures.

Yolen has an excellent web-site at http://www.janeyolen.com/. The sections on these books have pictures of some of the settings that inspired scenes in the books.

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