In her first YA fantasy novel, Kane (Creative Writing, 2002, etc.) deftly weaves the absorbing tale of a shape-shifting Irish wizard, a lethal ghost, a cursed island and a modern-day young girl who may be able to put everything right.
Kane pulls out all the stops in her lively debut fantasy for teens and older tweens. Twelve-year-old Kaitlin, her little brother, poet father and artist mother have moved to Merlin’s Island off the coast of Maine to run an inn. The venture is failing, though, and the island is reputed to be cursed and haunted by the bloody ghost of a “fire-born changeling.” With the appearance of mysterious stranger Michael McClure, the family’s luck turns around; in no time, the inn is a bustling success. Is it merely a coincidence, or is Michael the mythical Irish sea-wizard Manannan Mac Lir, summoned by Kaitlin’s secret prayer? If so, has he been drawn by the island’s curse as well? Is a little girl’s ghost killing people with a bloody touch? And is Kaitlin actually a “true witch,” with the power to help heal the island and dispel its ghost? In this colorful, well-crafted fantasy, Kane easily keeps all of these plates spinning and more: Why does Kaitlin’s mom paint a disturbing and perhaps prescient piece of art? Is the sudden alliance between town busybody Mrs. Roseberry and antiques dealer Sheridan Lockwood more nefarious than simple rumormongering? The singing voices of both Kaitlin and Mac Lir prove crucial to the plot, as do the ancient Chain of Mongan that Kaitlin wears as Michael’s protective gift and a “witch’s scope” sent to Kaitlin by eccentric Dr. Castlemaine for use only in a dire supernatural emergency. Kane brings the diverse plotlines together in a satisfying, fiery crescendo of magical events that feature the redemptive act of a golden-eyed stag and a vivid depiction of Kaitlin’s courageous struggle to tap into a mystical song of healing. In a teasing question-mark twist as the novel draws to a close, the islanders try rationalize the inexplicable: Did any of it really happen? Either way, in Kane’s capable hands, the magic lingers for Kaitlin and for readers.
A multilayered blend of suspense, mythology and the supernatural, anchored by a thoughtful, young heroine.