Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Illusion or Magic? Delusion by Laura L. Sullivan

“There will be no fighting,” Rudyard said.

“Sit down, Arden. It’s time you learned something. I had high hopes for you, son. I thought you might one day follow me as Headmaster. But now you are called upon to make an even greater sacrifice for the college and is only right that you should know why.”

England is a prison for the Essence, he told Arden, and the College of Drycraeft is a prison for magicians. “Once the Essence had flowed through the whole world. And humans, being humans, used it selfishly, foolishly, violently. Thus it is whenever there is power.

Our ancestors saw what would become of civilization if the magic were left unchecked. We did what we had to do.”

It is the early days of World War II, and as seventeen-year-old twins Phil and Fee, magicians in the long tradition of the Albion family, begin their theater show, planned to end in a grand illusion called “The End of the World,” London’s first Blitz attack begins. Although the girls escape with minor injuries, their adopted brothers Hector and Stan are assumed dead in the rubble outside, and the girls’ parents immediately volunteer their talents to Britain’s clandestine service and ship their daughters off to the sanctuary of  remote upcountry relatives in the hamlet of Bittersweet, where the inhabitants are singularly unaffected and uninterested in the war effort.

Fee, eerily beautiful with gauzy red-blonde hair, is mainly concerned with leaving her many male admirers behind, but Phil is full of fight, strong-minded and determined to organize a home guard among the indifferent slackers in Bittersweet to defeat the Nazi invaders just across the North Sea.

But as in her search for volunteers and weapons for her training program widens, Phil encounters what is almost another world, an enclave of wizards with supernatural powers, shielded from sight and entry by magical barriers. Phil discovers that she is immune to their protective skills, a result of her Albion ancestor, banished from this very college generations ago. Phil comes into open conflict with the magicians inside, led by Master Arden, and although he realizes that he is powerless to prevent her entry, the anger between them grows to hatred when she continues to try to recruit his more impressionable apprentices to her home guard muster.

But slowly Phil and Arden feel a mutual attraction, each recognizing a kindred zealous spirit in the other, and when Arden discovers that his own magical refuge is endangered, not just by Hitler’s army, but by a coterie of German magicians determined to destroy Drycraeft and end its confinement of the Essence of life to England, he realizes that he needs Phil and that his English magicians need the country’s “commoners” to defeat their dual enemies. Love between them grows strong as they ready for the coming onslaught of the German magicians on Britain.

The headmaster’s words reverberated through the stone halls. ”You’ll doom them too, if you free the magicians. I’ve seen war. I’ve seen what people are. Don’t give them freedom. You don’t know the malice and stupidity of them, Arden.”

“What we offer is the lesser of two evils,” Arden said grimly.

The non-conclusion of the closing chapter of Laura L. Sullivan’s forthcoming Delusion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), suggests that she intends sequels. Part romance, part historical fiction, and part treatise on good, evil, and free will in a metaphysical context, Sullivan’s newest novel is not casual reading. There are many characters and minor plot threads to juggle, as the story toggles between an all-too real world of home front hardships to an apocalyptic clash in the trans-physical domain, but in her protagonists, Phil and Arden, the author takes on the big issues, free will and choice in an imperfect world, and for this Sullivan deserves credit.

In what is popularly described as a “sprawling novel,” Sullivan’s nascent series has certain similarities of theme, plot, and characters to those oft-cited Twilight, Hunger Games, or Harry Potter series and their progenitors in the English fantasy tradition, proving that young adult readers are willing to take on the major questions of human existence if the trappings are sufficiently intriguing. Sullivan is taking on quite a challenge, aspiring to the esteemed company of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Susan Cooper, and all the rest of the metaphysical allegorists in this long tradition. In this case the judgment will lie in the strength of the as-yet-to-come sequels.

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