Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry
Sylvie is dying. A victim of crippling allergies, poisoned by the pollution and chemicals of modern life, Sylvie is trapped in a hospital bed while her mother and doctors watch her life slipping away. But one of them offers her a chance. There’s an alternative community – Stonewylde – hidden away behind high boundary walls in a corner of Dorset. If their leader, the charismatic Magus, would let Sylvie visit then perhaps the clean air and green lifestyle may restore her vitality. Or at least give her some measure of peace before she dies. It’s a chance, and when Sylvie and her mother take it, they find themselves in a haven of tranquillity and beauty. But it’s not all idyllic. The Magus sends a moody, secretive Village boy to work in their garden as a punishment. He warns them to stay away from him – he’s rebellious and in deep trouble. But Sylvie is curious about Yul and, as their forbidden friendship grows, she sees that all is not quite as it seems at Stonewylde. Why was she told to keep away from Yul – and why are she and her mother so drawn to the Magus? Is the crone on the hill really a powerful wise-woman, or just a crazed old hag bent on destroying the peace with her wild prophecies? And what exactly is the magical secret at the heart of this seemingly perfect community?
Magus of Stonewylde is the first book in Kit Berry’s Stonewylde series which was originally self-published, but has now become so successful that Gollancz have bought the rights and published new revised editions. After meeting Kit when she came to do a signing in Waterstone’s in Cheltenham, where I work, I knew I had to buy this book. The new covers are beautiful and definitely caught my eye, but what appealed to me most was the fact that the whole premise of the Stonewylde books sounded rather unique to today’s YA genre. I have to admit, I was a little dubious as to whether or not it would be my ‘cup of tea’ but I needn’t have feared because I soon became utterly engrossed in the world that Kit Berry has created.
Stonewylde is certainly an intriguing place. It’s undoubtedly beautiful, peaceful and rural, a place where people can live as a community and not only take from the earth but give back to it as well. The Stonewylde community follow the old Pagan religion although the word ‘Pagan’ is never actually used. It’s a place where people worship the earth and live in harmony with nature. I know this book will and has already attracted many Pagan believers, but I have to say that even though I’m not Pagan myself, I can certainly see the appeal with a place like Stonewylde, and there’s no reason why these beliefs intertwined with the story should put anyone off from reading it. However, things are not quite as peaceful as they seem. Magus, the head of the community keeps a very watchful eye on those around him and his beliefs often come into conflict with Sylvie’s, who has just moved from the city.
It’s obvious from the beginning that there is something more sinister going on in Stonewylde, particularly surrounding the character of Magus. He has put a lot into Stonewylde to make it the community it is, and he will let nothing destroy what he has worked so hard to build. Sylvie is a very innocent and at times naïve girl, and it takes her a while to understand exactly what Magus is doing, especially with her mother, who has fallen quite hopelessly in love with Magus. But it is when Sylvie is banned from seeing young Yul that she really begins to question her life at Stonewylde. I loved the character of Yul perhaps most of all. His struggling relationship with his father, who beats him night after night, is hard to read about and it’s hard not to feel Yul’s pain and the torment he is going through, with no one to turn to. He takes the beatings only in the hope that his father will leave his mother and siblings alone. Yul’s life is a sad one, and the only ray of hope he has is Sylvie, the very person he is not allowed to see. But when an old prophecy comes to light, Sylvie and Yul realise they must fight Magus together, not only for themselves, but for the whole community.
Magus of Stonewylde is a wonderful page-turner of a book that will keep you wanting more. I adored the characters and the Stonewylde community itself is so intriguing that I know I will be buying the second book in this series. Berry’s language is lovely, and her descriptions of this rural place are what make this book such a pleasure to read. It’s clear that Berry has a love of nature and wildlife and this really does shine through in every page, and this book couldn’t have worked nearly half as well without Berry’s knowledge and passion. I can’t wait to get the next book (which has an even more stunning cover), and see what will become of Yul and Sylvie as they seek to bring Magus down. I highly recommend this series to anyone who is looking for something a little bit different amongst all the run-of-the-mill dark fantasy books. This book may not have vampires or werewolves, even better, it will give you an insight into just how powerful mere humans can be.
Magus of Stonewylde is out now, published by Gollancz. Thanks to Kit Berry for being so lovely when I met her, and for signing my book!