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A Riddle of Roses

by Caryl Cude Mullin, Kasia Charko, illus.

Everything’s coming up roses for 13-year-old Meryl, in training since the age of seven as a musician and storyteller, as she sets out for the magical island of Avalon. Meryl hopes to become a bard by fulfilling a quest like her hero, the great Taliesin, King Arthur’s poet and prophet. With a bedraggled sprig from Taliesin’s rose bush and her own master’s harp, Meryl soon finds herself entangled in a marvellous mystery. It’s up to her to discover the riddle of the rose and whether Taliesin did indeed steal the rose bush from its forest guardian.

Caryl Cude Mullin’s first novel is a sprightly fantasy adventure chock full of magic. Mullin has skillfully drawn on the rich lore of Celtic storytelling, neatly intertwining with Meryl’s quest elements of fairy lore and Arthurian tales of adventure. She deftly conjures up a world where the fool from Old King Coel’s court can exist beside ancient Celtic gods. As in all good stories, Mullin uses a number of storytelling conventions – Meryl receives several gifts on her journey, all with rose motifs, and enlists helpers who each have a skill invaluable to the ultimate success of her quest. A series of nicely rendered black-and-white line drawings by Kasia Charko adds to the magical spirit of the story.

Like Welwyn Wilton Katz’s marvellous Arthurian adventure, A Third Magic, this book will appeal especially to readers interested in fantasy fiction and Celtic mythology. Mullin’s novel mirrors the great tradition of songs and stories that her young heroine longs to place herself in but, more importantly, it leaves readers with a story that does the bardic tradition proud.