Review: ‘Song of Sorcery’ by Elizabeth Scarborough

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, September 23, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

One of the many benefits of having such a large pool of books from which to choose my reading is that it’s easy to find something that fits my mood or requirements.  A while ago I needed to pick a book to read before bed and so it needed to be light in every sense of the word: light in subject matter so that it enabled my brain to wind down before sleep without making it do much thinking, and physically light so that when I (inevitably) fell asleep reading it no lasting damage would be caused to my head.  Hardbacks were also eliminated for this reason.  In the end, I settled on a book which fulfilled these criteria perfectly: Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Scarborough.

Song of Sorcery is a fantasy story about Maggie, a sensible, practical hearthwitch whose magic is used to light fires and cook meals.  But when her beautiful, empty headed sister Amberwine runs away from her husband with a gypsy, she is forced to leave her comfortable home life to go and retrieve her errant sibling.  Her travelling companions are Colin Songsmith, a minstrel who gets into trouble with Maggie’s grandmother by singing a popular song which has sprung up about Amberwine’s actions, and Ching, a talking cat.

Had I read this book ten or fifteen years ago, I’m sure I would have really enjoyed it as it has everything in it that little girls love: magic, unicorns, princesses, heroes, dragons, mermaids and talking animals.  The problem is that I’m no longer a ten year old girl and, although this is theoretically a book for adults, it feels very juvenile.  There are too many elements to the story given how short it is and they are all passed over too quickly without being particularly well developed so it feels rushed and bitty.  Equally, the characters never progress beyond the caricatures needed to perform the actions of the story, which is a shame.

On the other hand, some aspects are expanded to the point of being ridiculous.  Maggie’s domestic magical powers, for example, are used for everything from re-hydrating strips of dried venison in order to produce proper meals while camping to creating full length gowns out of her underwear.  There are some little details which are entertaining and innovative.  I particularly like their visit to Maggie’s aunt who lives in a gingerbread house and has to deal with all the terrible impracticalities that entails.  It’s taking a typical fairytale trope and turning it on its head, which I love and I wish there were more of it.

This book fulfilled its purpose.  It’s quite entertaining but entirely lacking in substance, which is what I wanted.  I’ll probably continue with the other books in the series, but only before bed when my critical faculties are firmly switched off.

Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Scarborough.  Published by Bantam, 1987, pp. 216.  Originally published in 1982.

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