Prospero’s Children

6 Oct

‘Prospero’s Chilren’ was an unexpected treat that I stumbled across quite by chance several years ago. The book had received little publicity and its author Jan Siegel was a writer that I had never heard of before. Nonetheless my attention was caught by the book’s cover, which featured the haunting artwork of Alan Lee and the arresting tagline “A mythical key is about to be found… but what kind of door will it open?”. Of course, I had to find out the answer to this question and I was not disappointed by the result, which has made this one of the most treasured books that has sat on my shelves ever since then.

The opening premise of the book will be familiar to readers of countless children’s fantasy novels from The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe all the way to the Harry Potter series. When Fern Capel and her brother Will arrive at a mysterious, isolated house for their summer holidays they soon find themselves thrust into a world of ancient, unsleeping magic that exists alongside our own. The house hides many secrets, among them a talisman which has been sought by the forces of good and evil for years beyond count – a key that grants access to a magical and corrupt land that was destroyed millenia ago. At the epicentre of the struggle because of her unusual Gift, a power that has lain dormant within her until now, Fern finds herself by turns courted, pursued and threatened by a motley array of characters: the enigmatic wanderer Ragginbone, the sinister art-dealer Javier Holt and the minions of the power-hungry sorceress Alison Redmond.

One of the charms of Prospero’s Children is the way Siegel seamlessly interweaves ancient myth with the modern age. The book features mermaids, magic and lost worlds, yet never feels overtly fantastical or too detached from the world we know. Fern Capel is very much her own woman – independent, opinionated and unwilling to be led by characters who are years, or in some cases centuries or millenia, older than her. Prospero’s Children and its two sequels The Dragon Charmer and Witch’s Honour (which in my opinion are even better) draw heavily on both British and World mythology, including the myth of Atlantis, Arthurian lore, Norse legends and even Hindu and Chinese folk traditions. Siegel’s writing is faultlessly beautiful and at times reminds me of Tolkien at his very best – rich, evocative and powerful. Like Tolkien, Siegel is clearly at great pains to make sure that every name sounds just right and characters like Caracandal, Azmordis, Malmorth, Zohrầne, Bradachin, Eriost and Nehemet all have names which suit them perfectly as well as being full of mythical resonance.

There is no doubt that Prospero’s Children sounds somewhat derivative in outline but what distinguishes this tale from a hundred others is the quality of Jan Siegel’s writing, which is lyrical and captivating, and her sketching of the main characters, all of whom you bond with instantly, especially the heroine. I’ve always found it a bit of a disappointment that there are only three books in the Fern Capel series (Siegel did write another related trilogy afterwards under her real name of Amanda Hemingway but it’s not nearly as good). Unfortunately it is now also out of print so, if you want to read it, you will need to seek this excellent series out on the internet or in one of those fast-disappearing independent bookstores. Take my word for it though, it’s worth the effort!

One Response to “Prospero’s Children”

  1. Martha C Allen May 8, 2018 at 3:08 am #

    I agree. This series is mesmerizing.

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