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The Mirror and the Mountain and The Forgotten Palace, by Luke Aylen

03 January 2020

Fiona Hook finds herself surprisingly captivated

FACED with a fantasy for children aged eight to 13, with a Christian subtext, the reviewer’s heart sinks. You just know it’s going to be patronising, obvious, and, above all, dull. I am happy to report, therefore, that Luke Aylen’s two books turned out to be none of these things.

Two 11-year-olds, Summer and Jonah, pass through a mirror and find themselves in a besieged castle from which they are rescued by dwarves, who happily co-exist with humans, selling armaments to both sides, in a magical kingdom, Presadia.

Khoree the dragon tells them that their only hope of finding a mirror to take them home is to find the lost king who made them. On the way, as in all good quests, they face hardship, and learn lessons about courage, telling the truth, and taming the tongue.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tin, High Lord of the dwarves, the queen of the elves, and the dragon, the children find the king, who clearly represents Christ, watching over a people who have turned from him. At the end, there is a series of questions, so that a class could consider and discuss what they have read.

The story continues when the dwarf Antimony sees in the shards of another mirror the ruins of a palace, and, encouraged by a mysterious stranger, persuades his people to restore it. Here, the tale turns darker as the Usurper, who has taken over the area, sends his troops to destroy the work and kill those who oppose him.

Aylen borrows happily from folklore, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett, making an entirely new fabric of his patchwork. He subverts your expectations of the genre and draws his morals subtly, as in all good folk tales, as part of a narrative that you want to keep reading. I particularly liked the way in which he uses limericks as a serious literary form.

The stories race along, illuminated with a sly wit that also makes you think. For example, why should Tin be in charge just because he has the longest beard? I finished wanting to know what happened next. Fortunately, another volume is on its way.

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

The Mirror and the Mountain: An adventure in Presadia
Luke Aylen
Lion £7.99

The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia
Luke Aylen
Lion £7.99

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