Flashback of a Flashback Fridays: Tell me a tale of krakens and kings . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
Reposting an older Flashback today, mainly because the 4th festivities have meant more mommy time and less writing time.
You’re a kid living in New York City and you notice strange things are going missing: doorknobs, tuna sandwiches and bronze statues. Something’s wrong . . . something bad. But you don’t know quite what and you’re not sure it’ll work, but you throw a coin in the river wishing for help. The help you get isn’t what you expected.
Do you remember:
The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas (Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
I’ve loved urban fantasy ever since I encountered So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane. I have a real interest in stories that take place in New York City particularly. So this trilogy was right on the mark for me. This was back well before I became a city denizen myself, but being a New Yorker, I loved anything taking place in or around the city.
Valentine Marsh lives in New York City on the Upper West side with her divorced mom. She still struggles with the pain of her parents’ divorce and her mom’s dating habits. But day to day issues are eclipsed when Tina notices something much more disturbing going on . . . objects go missing, including the huge bronze statue of king Jagiello. Tina doesn’t know what it all means, but when her act of throwing a coin in the river summons a strange fiddler with magical powers, she knows it’s out of the ordinary. And this fiddler needs her help. It seems there’s a kraken trying to break through to their dimension, and they’ll need to find a way to stop it. From the subway tunnels beneath the city to a final showdown in Central Park, this is middle grade urban fantasy that captured my imagination.
The Bronze King pulled on a lot of the legends of mythology, with monsters and magic interweaving with the ordinary world around Val. Like Diane Duane’s Young Wizards, there are those born with special magical gifts that must always be on guard against the darker magics of the world around them. I loved the whole idea of involving the different sculptures and statues in the city as a form of magical protections. For those who might wonder, the statue that is the focus of this story, King Jagiello is a real monument in Central Park. You can find out a bit more about its history here.
The Bronze King was followed up by two more stories in the Sorcery Hall Trilogy. The second book The Silver Glove (1988) is actually the first book I read of the three. (It had me frantically searching for the first book after I’d finished.) Val’s grandmother warns her of a dangerous villain who wants to steal souls, and sends Val a strange silver glove to aide her. But when that villain disguises himself as the school psychologist Dr. Brightner and turns her mother into a pawn in his plan, Val has to find to face down this new threat and keep her family safe. Like the first book there’s a real tinge of bittersweetness to these stories. The day may be saved, but there are usually prices paid to achieve it.
The Golden Thread (1989) brings Val’s friends together on New Year’s Eve. Each one is struggling with things of their own and they’re inspired to join hands and make wishes. Only their circle flares with magical light, and Val can only guess the power is their own. Now a mysterious new girl is in town and she’s seeing out Val and her friends. She thinks they might have the answers she’s looking for and it turns out that she’s from really far away. It’s up to the “Comet Committee” to set things right again. This book is lovely and sad at the same time, perhaps even moreso than the others. There’s a lot on the themes of love and how they tie us to each other in these stories.
The author lived and worked in New York City, which gives the books an authentic feel. (I admit I get snarky when someone writes about a place I know well and clearly hasn’t spent much time in that place. It’s like CSI:NY having a Chinatown with palm trees.) On the downside, these books have not aged as well as some. One real instance of this are the villainous punks from the first books with their jackets labelled “Prince of Darkness” and they have chains and wrist straps. I think the series can still be enjoyed, but it no longer feels quite so contemporary.
Suzy McKee Charnas wrote a number of fantasy books for middle grade readers and young adults, in the 1980s and 1990s, but appears to have switched to adult fantasy and short stories since that time. This trilogy remains my favorite of her works and I’m happy to have all three books in my home collection. With this series out of print, I like having the books around for a re-read when I’m so inclined.
Do you remember this series? What NYC fantasy is your favorite?
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on July 5, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, fantasy, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, series, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.