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Review: So Mote It Be by Isobel Bird

Note: This is an ancient review, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished 10 March 2001, that I’m just now con­vert­ing to Word­Press.

Last night I took advan­tage of the qui­et due to hav­ing two kids gone on a camp­ing trip to read So Mote It Be, the first book of Iso­bel Bird’s Cir­cle of Three series.

I’d heard about this series on a cou­ple of pagan mail­ing lists, but nobody seemed to have actu­al­ly read them yet. I was, how­ev­er, some­what intrigued by the thought of a Wic­can (sup­pos­ed­ly one with 20 years of expe­ri­ence and a good rep­u­ta­tion) writ­ing books aimed at the teen mar­ket that loves Charmed and Buffy and so on. The books were sup­posed to be bet­ter done and more respon­si­bly writ­ten than the sim­i­lar series Sil­ver Raven­wolf has start­ed, and I knew my daugh­ter would be want­i­ng to read them as soon as she saw or heard about them, so I fig­ured I’d go ahead and screen book one.

(Yes, we do gen­er­al­ly screen music, books and movies before our kids are exposed to them—we don’t cen­sor much except graph­ic vio­lence, but we do choose to dis­cuss our con­cerns about var­i­ous media very open­ly with our kids.)

I don’t real­ly like teen genre books—it’s been a few too many years since I obsessed over look­ing right at school and whether a par­tic­u­lar per­son would ask me to a dance for me to relate. And I didn’t even like the few that were out when I was a teen—I was read­ing C.S. Lewis, Robert Hein­lein, Frank Her­bert and Mar­i­on Zim­mer Bradley. But I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised that the book wasn’t that painful, and for the genre it was real­ly very well done.

As a pagan, I was impressed with how the rule of three and the rede were worked into the nov­el and made very real. The main char­ac­ter is Kate, and her con­flict between being drawn to Wic­ca (which is pre­sent­ed as a reli­gion) and being a fair­ly devout Chris­t­ian is han­dled del­i­cate­ly and cer­tain­ly not resolved in the first book, which is, I think, real­is­tic. Kate’s fears of being ostra­cized if her old friends (the pop­u­lar crowd in their high school) found out she was prac­tic­ing witch­craft are very real. The prac­tic­ing Wic­cans are por­trayed very pos­i­tive­ly, and tarot read­ing is pre­sent­ed as a method of explor­ing choic­es and gain­ing insight rather than some sil­ly card trick.

In short, I have absolute­ly no reser­va­tions about let­ting my 10-year-old daugh­ter read this book and the oth­ers in the series (although I plan to read them, as well, first.) I do think the appeal of the books will be among 9–12 year olds, but real­ize that my per­cep­tions there may be skewed. (Katie just bought her own copy of The Mists of Aval­on because she loves that book so much, so she isn’t real­ly read­ing on what the pub­lic school sys­tem would con­sid­er her “grade lev­el.”)

I did have two lit­tle gripes about the books—the author must not know many 9-year-olds, because she por­trayed one briefly with behav­ior and dia­logue more appro­pri­ate to a 5-year-old. Our kids are 9, 10 and 12 and we have anoth­er 9-year-old who spends a lot of time here. We host kids’ gam­ing groups here every week­end or at least every oth­er week­end, when 10 to 15 kids from who are 8 to 13 years old are here for much of the week­end. I know kids in that age range very well, and don’t know even one who would even think of speak­ing the dia­logue giv­en to Meg. And the idea that the main char­ac­ters found a book of spells in their high school library pushed tripped my unbe­liev­abil­i­ty trigger—do you real­ly think any pub­lic school in the US would have such a thing on their shelves in this day and age, when even Madeleine L’Engle is often con­sid­ered too witchy?

Any­way, we’ll prob­a­bly be buy­ing the oth­er books in this series as they come out, and I can only rec­om­mend them to oth­er par­ents and their young read­ers. Do read them and dis­cuss them with your kids. If your kids like these, I’d sug­gest that they check out Diane Duane’s Wiz­ardry series, too (So You Want to Be a Wiz­ard is book one) and maybe the Chrestom­an­ci series by Diana Wynne Jones. Robin Wood’s mar­velous exam­i­na­tion of ethics, When, Why… If, also pro­vides excel­lent mate­r­i­al for fam­i­ly dis­cus­sions (and if the char­ac­ters of So Mote It Be had read Robin’s book first, there prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been a plot).

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