Cover art © Gene Mollica.
Margaret Mahy is a New Zealand fantasy author whose works are full of complex characters and plots, always rewarding reading. She has won the Carnegie Medal twice as well as the Hans Christian Anderson Award.
Heriot Tarbas is a troubled boy living on a remote country farm in the land of Hoad, far from the capital city of Diamond. His mind and even his body are subject to strange pains, odd visions, frightening dreams, and the feeling that another mind is there with his own, and one that means him harm. Through a long and eventful life he strives to solve these mysteries as well as the puzzle of his own magical powers, which come along unbidden and at first unwanted.
Hoad has a King and royal family, and also a Hero, equal in power to the King, who lives on an island just over the hill from Heriot’s farm. What Heriot experiences there as a boy almost ends his life, but also begins the growth of his own abilities. Those in power in the King’s household are somehow aware of Heriot’s magic too, and try to gather him in, but after an attack by the Hero, Carlyon, Heriot flees the farm and ends up on a battlefield where Hoad and their rival neighbor Dannorad are trying to negotiate peace. Wounded and ill, Heriot is rescued by the King’s third son, Dysart, and a strange connection is revealed between them. Before long, Heriot is living in the royal palace in Diamond learning about his powers, but still troubled, and uneasy about the struggle for power all around him. At times the friendship of a street orphan boy, Cayley, is the only solace he can find.
That’s just the first third or so of this engrossing book, and I enjoyed reading it, though at times the many mysteries in the main characters’ lives make understanding them difficult. It does all get sorted out in the end.