Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson: 4 out of 5 stars
The year is 1906, and on the shores of Lake Michigan twelve-year-old Violet Blake unearths an ancient talisman…
Disclosure: This book was received as an ARC from netgalley, but the following review is my own, truthful opinion. Copper Magic is published on 1st July 2014.
This middle grade novel is a great example of magical realism through nature. By that, I mean that the story feels magical, but where this is created by the natural world being personified as well as through the actual plot and events. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when you learn that the author, Julia Mary Gibson, openly acknowledges the sense of magic in the area the book was based on, that she experienced when growing up.
When I was young, I was sure I saw fairies in the ferns by the clear blue lake. In its waters I felt the presence of invisible, powerful water beings, Once I saw a meteor shower and the northern lights, both at once. Often I’ve seen deep red dawn in clouds and water.
If that’s not magic, nothing is.
Her description, and the fact that the geography of her formative years permeates her fiction is something I can definitely relate to. I’ve lived near the River Severn all my life – when I was a child up near the towns that get flooded and end up on the news so frequently and now nearer the tidal estuary, so I can understand how a body of water can almost become a character in its own right. There are little touches of description, little anecdotes about the fictional town in the story, Pigeon Harbor, that sound so realistic and it’s only after the story finishes that you read on and see these details are based on facts and events that actually happened, transposed and knitted together into the sequence of events in the book.
The human characters are a funny mix. In some ways they’re as stern and forbidding as the lake. Apart from the protagonist, Violet, we don’t really get to see much of their inner lives. This struck me as odd at first, in our culture of over-sharing. But on reflection, I quite like how it preserves a sense of mystery. I didn’t see any of the plot twists coming, whereas normally you can tell from character cues how things will end up in a novel by about half way in.
I’ll admit that I was worried about how the Native American parts would be portrayed. Not being of Native American, or of American heritage at all, I’m not sure if I’m in a position to say how authentic it is. But from an outsider’s point of view it felt like it was sensitively done. Like Violet, I have a parent of mixed cultural heritage (Romany gypsy, if you’re interested) and though I was brought up outside Traveller culture, I can empathise with how Violet’s mother may have felt, being judged for not being “white” enough and how Violet herself might feel, having her heritage effectively forgotten once her mother leaves town.
My only major criticism, I suppose, is that the climax of the action seems to come very abruptly at the end, and events which have been building slowly are suddenly resolved with little examination of the effects on the characters and the town, dealing with their aftermath.
Recommended for: Middle grade/younger YA readers – this coming of age tale of a girl struggling to deal with a family rift uses magic to sensitively address the personal and wider issues of a turn of the century American town.
Copper Magic is released on 1st July and is published by Macmillan Tor/Forge. You can pre-order a copy here.