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Witch's Honour

by Jan Siegel

(HarperCollins, £6.99, 310 pages, paperback, first published 2002, this edition published 6 January 2003.)

Review by Caleb Woodbridge

After the unengaging middle book of the trilogy, The Dragon-Charmer, I wasn't greatly looking forward to this, the last cover scanbook telling the story of Fern Capel, one of Prospero's Children gifted with magical abilities. However, the central part of a story is often the hardest in which to maintain the reader's interest, so I approached the novel with cautious optimism.

As it turned out, however, this book saw a definite improvement in many areas - I found the story far more engaging. The return of the witch Morgus and her search for protagonist Fern provides a much-needed sense of pace and urgency. Unlike her initial attempts to ignore her gift in the previous book, Fern is on the offensive from the start, actively seeking a way to defeat her foe. Purely in terms of technical skill, the book is well-written and interesting. The various plot threads left hanging from the previous books - Fern's bargain with Kal, Will and Gaenor's relationship and so on, all re-emerge to be resolved.

However, even though it is ostensibly our own, the world that the human characters live in is stranger to me than the world of magic, witches and lost civilizations. Those at least I have visited many times through many tales, but the cynical, high-flying life of Fern, Lucas and the other characters seems to me unfamiliar and unwelcoming. It reminded me a little of what I've seen of BBC's recent drama Hustle about a group of con artists in London, only without the televisual veneer of "coolness". A streak of pessimism runs through the book - I hope that the cold, unpleasant human world the author shows us here does not really exist, or at least, that I never have to visit it for long.

Given the supposed indestructibility of the mad, bad villainess Morgus, her inevitable defeat comes with almost indecent haste and speed once the confrontation arrives. The ending is cleverly set up - unforeseen by this reader at least, yet foreshadowed without seeming contrived. Morgus is arguably a mere distraction from the real climax, and despite being suitably, well, climactic, the ending is far from happy or uplifting. While I wouldn't wish the story to go for a pat, happily-ever-after ending, the decision Fern makes at the end seems dangerously close to giving up. The ending can best be summed up as "unsatisfactory", having neither uplifting warmth nor tragic power. It seems almost as if there should be another book to follow, but unfortunately, on the basis of this trilogy, I myself would not be rushing out to read it. A cynical fairy-tale? Bleugh.

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