Behind the Sorcerer’s Cloak
Reviewed: April 1, 2008
By: Andrea Spalding
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
227 pages, $9.95
W.O. Mitchell used to say that writers had absorbed all the really important
elements that would go into their work by time they were 12 years old. Andrea
Spalding has lived in Canada for years, but she grew up in Britain, so some
of the raw material that has gone into the Summer of Magic Quartet, especially
the final books setting on the Isle of Man, came from her childhood. She credits
the direct inspiration for the series to visits that she and her husband, David,
paid to places such as Avebury and Glastonbury over the years and, she notes
in her introductions, four visits to specific places where research surely blended
with holidays while the books were being written
The Canadian connection for these books comes from the children, Chantel and
Adam, who have been packed off to visit with cousins in Great Britain while
their parents decide what they are going to do with their marriage. The underlying
problem of potential family dissolution runs through all the books and adds
to the tension in the main plot.
The cousins are Holly and Owen, and they live in an area of Great Britain that
seems to have a lot of magical connections.
In an age long past those known as the Wise Ones chose to withdraw from our
reality rather than enter into conflict with the Dark One. To throw her off
their scent, they hid their talismans of power on Earth or Gaia. The ploy worked
for many centuries, but the Dark One has gathered her forces and, in this one
special summer, is making her move. Her objective is to obtain the instruments
of power, defeat the Wise Ones, subjugate Gaia, and dominate the universe.
The four children are touched by Earth magic in some inherent way and have therefor
been able to help each of the Wise Ones. In the third volume the Wise One is
the being who has occasionally taken human form and been known on Earth as Myrddhin
(or Merlin) and it is Adam who faces the task of aiding him by walking the labyrinth
in order to regain his staff.
This particular adventure ties into the Arthurian legends concerning Merlin
and Vivienne (also known as Nimue) who is said to have imprisoned the mage in
a crystal cave. Adam has to gain access to the cave to obtain the staff, all
the while overcoming attempts by Vivienne and the Dark One’s servant,
Like the first two books, this adventure also involves a bit of astral time
travelling, in which several of the children are witnesses to things that happened
hundreds of years earlier. One of these flashbacks allows them to meet the boy
Arto, who would become part of the legend of Arthur.
Unlike the first two books this one ends in a cliffhanger, a last minute partial
failure of the which would have left readers in 2005 waiting for a year to find
out who things went. Fortunately for us, all four books are now in print.
The final book takes our heroes and the adults who help them to the Isle of
Man, where the final confrontation between Light and Dark has to take place,
where the Lady, who is the last of the Wise Ones, last lived as a human being
on Earth, and where the charms that kept the balance were broken by human greed.
Readers of this series will be reminded somewhat of the work of Susan Cooper,
Madeleine L’Engle and even a touch of Enid Blyton’s books for older
readers. What is different is that everything does not work out the way the
children like, or even the way the Wise Ones wish. If compromise and the settling
of disputes by reasonable rather than absolute means is a Canadian characteristic,
then this is a very Canadian novel.
Andrea Spalding had begun this saga when she and David came to spend the Summer
at Berton House in 2002, and we had a number of conversations about it at that
time. The final result is a nice piece of work and does not disappoint me at