Solstice at Stonewylde — book review

SOLSTICE AT STONEWYLDE by Kit Berry. Gollancz £7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

This book and the others in the series are evidence that some self-published volumes are worth reading. The Stonewylde volumes were originally just that, but have now been taken up by Gollancz and are being published for the mass market.

The premise behind the series is a slightly different take on fantasy and magic. Stonewylde coexists in the contemporary world but is hidden from the sight of those who do not know where it is. It is protected by a magic that has kept it separate and to some extent in the middle ages with its social structure of Hall and Village. There is contact with the outside world – Hallfolk have access to the internet and shop via it.

Although this is the third volume in the series, there is enough information inserted in the text to make reading the previous two (Magus of Stonewylde and Moondance of Stonewylde) unessential.

Fifteen year-old Sylvie and her mother Miranda have been brought to Stonewylde Hall by Magus, the current overlord. Miranda is in love with Magus and expecting his child but the interest is in Sylvie. She has the ability to channel the power of moonlight at a full moon. Magus, instead of being the benevolent benefactor they first thought is forcing her to dance for him on full moon nights and store up her energy in egg shaped rocks for his use later. Sylvie hates the experience as it leaves her feeling weak. She has also formed an attachment to Yul, a village boy.

As Solstice at Stonewylde opens, Sylvie is being bullied. Magus accuses her of malingering even though her weakness is genuine after his treatment of her. He forces her to eat more than she is physically capable of and to attend lessons – the Hall is partly an exclusive school for the children of rich parents. In lessons she is regularly humiliated as she has missed so much work from her previous school due to illness. She is tormented by other youngsters who pick on her because her lack of fashionable clothing and because Holly, their ringleader, is jealous of her relationship with Yul. Added to this, she is forbidden to see or speak to Yul.

At the last full moon, Yul tried to stop Magus draining Sylvie’s energy. As a result, he is being kept prisoner by Jackdaw, on Magus’s orders, starving and beating him. In two months, though, Yul will be sixteen and Magus is wary of the prophecy pronounced at the boy’s birth.

There is much to like in this novel. There are however a few inconsistencies. The people of Stonewylde do have access to the Outside world so it is surprising that there is no village school and that they are all illiterate, especially when education is so highly prized by the Hallfolk. Although there is a lot of action, the emotional impact of it does not come over strongly enough.