Jan Siegel,
Prospero's Children
(Voyager, 1999; Del Rey, 2000)

Jan Siegel's breathtaking first novel, Prospero's Children, kicks off a projected trilogy rooted in the legends of Atlantis.

Fernanda Capel, known as Fern, is a self-assured capable teen-ager who prides herself on taking care of her father, Robin, and younger brother, Will. Since the death of her mother when Fern was 10, the girl has resolutely denied the existence or presence of all things supernatural or fantastic, believing firmly only in what she can experience through her senses.

But all of Fern's certainty is put to the test when her father inherits a house in Yorkshire from a relative, a former sea captain. The house is shabby and old, and the stone idol in the drawing room is entirely unsettling. In the morning, Fern notes a boulder or a stump that looks for all the world like someone watching the house, which of course can't be so -- can it? Fern's orderly life undergoes upheaval as she encounters strange characters: the Watcher, called Ragginbone, the wolf he calls Lougarry, and Alison Redmond, the woman supposedly helping Fern's father research a book.

All of them are looking for a key that had its origins in the lost city of Atlantis, a key created by a madwoman who sought to acquire the power of the secrets of death. But when the key is uncovered, it is up to Fern to find the way to restoring the balance between the past and the present, even if it means finding the way to Atlantis itself. Indeed, many of the characters, Fern included, bear a Gift, the legacy of Atlantis. Siegel substantiates the connection with a carefully constructed glossary of names and discussion of Atlantean language.

Siegel's narrative is engrossing, taut with suspense and tension which is heightened by Fern's attempts to make the circumstances fit her reality rather than adapting to them. Her transformation as she slowly comes to terms with her situation is nearly painful, so convincing is her character. Siegel uses vibrant and graceful images; her command and control of language is remarkable. Her characters come to life immediately and vividly, and are three-dimensional; even the scheming Alison has a reason for her actions which, if not condonable is at least understandable.

At the end of the novel, the reader is completely exhausted and satisfied. It is hard to imagine where Siegel could possibly go from here, but she's sure to have a bevy of eagerly reading followers to accompany her.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]