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, Zorianna.
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 all.