Today’s team review is from Barb, she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/
Barb has been reading The Portal by Caren J Werlinger
Like many ancient societies, early Ireland has a rich history of what we’d call magic and fantasy. From our modern viewpoint, we may find it hard to believe that so much of their society was influenced by the belief that supernatural forces controlled and influenced almost every aspect of their lives. Only…what if that was exactly what was happening? What if there were people with special gifts, trained and honed over a lifetime to wield tools we can’t understand? What happens when that supernaturally-based belief system crashes against the equally supernaturally-based system propagated by Christian missionaries?
This conflict forms the basis for Caren J. Werlinger’s Dragonmage series. Set in an ancient Ireland steeped in magic traditions, it tells the story of a young girl who is the one chosen to fill ancient prophecies while her entire world is crashing against the rapidly spreading new Christian beliefs.
This is the second book in the series, and —while the story arc can stand alone—to really understand the large cast of characters, it would be helpful to read Ash’s story in Book 1 first. Adopted by badgers (badgers!) as an infant after her village is destroyed by invaders, Ash survives because of her ability to communicate with animals. Although discovered and accepted as apprentice by mages, Ash and her new friends’ existence is threatened by the increasing influence of the Christianity introduced to Ireland by Saint Patrick in the fifth century.
Bonded with the baby dragon Péist, Ash receives her true name—Caymin—and discovers her destiny as a dragonmage, one chosen to travel through a time Portal to save other mages and their dragons, prevent a horrific war, and keep the spreading Christians from destroying Ireland’s magic heritage. But Caymin is torn between accepting her role as the one chosen to save her world, and the certainty that doing so will cost everything she holds most dear.
In a way, it’s like reading stories about the Titanic, because we already know how the tragedy plays out. But author Caren Werlinger continues to balance delicately between the magic lore taught and practiced by her fictional mages and the reality that we know the Christians were eventually successful.
As with Book One, the world building is wonderful. Not only do we get the strong sense of the realities of everyday life, but we also see the lure of the “what if”. Caymin and Péist each must consider whether their task really justifies the personal toll. This plays out in a very real sense, as Caymin is offered the ultimate “what if”—the chance to grow up with her family, to see them alive and happy instead of murdered when she was a baby. But everything comes at a price, and the cost for that one is a life lived without the magic and the defining bond with her dragon. Both the young mage and her dragon face trials as this version of the classic hero’s quest sets their coming of age crucibles against a backdrop of a world we as readers know will change despite them.
It’s always tough to create a believable middle book in a series arc, but Caren Werlinger succeeds brilliantly. The story arc takes Caymin and Péist both through adventures and through moral dilemmas, resolving them while still leaving enough threads open and a developing crisis to take us to the next book. I enjoyed the way Caymin’s character develops and grows, even as the slightly more alien dragon also tries to find his path as he matures. Caymin’s confusion about her attraction to another girl is sensitively and beautifully handled, fitting well into the context of the strong women who have guided her.
I wouldn’t hesitate to give The Portal five stars, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, adventure, and coming of age stories. And I can’t wait for the next book in this terrific series.
The Dragonmage Saga continues as Caymin and Péist return to Ireland. Together, mage and dragon seek allies to try and stop a pending war with a fanatical monk determined to rid Éire of magic. But the spreading tide of Christianity isn’t the only threat. An ancient evil – one that dates back to the last dragon war a thousand winters ago – threatens the present. The Portal into the otherworld is the only way to the past, but the otherworld is the realm of the gods and goddesses and other creatures of the old stories, and it is not forgiving to those who do not belong. Caymin and Péist soon learn that, in the otherworld, the deepest desires of their hearts become traps. While there, the young dragonmage and her dragon realize they are pawns in a struggle for power that was set in motion long before they were born. Even those they trust have been using them. Only through their bond with each other can they hope to survive to the trials awaiting them and find their way back through the Portal to this realm. But returning may not be an option if they have to sacrifice all to bring peace to a world that no longer holds a place for dragons and mages. Book Two in The Dragonmage Saga
About the author
From the author’s website: I was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of my childhood was spent reading everything I could get my hands on, and writing my own variations on many of those stories where I could play the hero, rescuing the girl and winning her love. Then I grew up and went to college where I completed a degree in foreign languages and later another in physical therapy where for many years, my only writing was research-based, including a very dry therapeutic exercise textbook.
In the mid-nineties, I began writing creatively again and re-discovered how much fun it is. My first novel, Looking Through Windows, was published in 2008 and won a GCLS award for Debut Author. In 2012, I decided to begin publishing my own books under my imprint, Corgyn Publishing. Corgyn’s first release, Miserere, followed in late 2012 to excellent reviews.