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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Shattering (SPOILERS)

So a few nights ago I read The Shattering, New Zealand YA author Karen Healey's newest novel. I loved her first book, Guardian of the Dead, and enjoyed The Shattering so much that I read it in one sitting. There's a lot going for this book--a thoughtful cast of multicultural characters, sex-positive relationships, great friendships between girls and between boys and girls, a scary-cool premise.

That last hinges on something I was not expecting at all: an examination of modern Western witchcraft. One of the major characters, Janna, is a teenage semi-practitioner of Wicca (she says she believes but needs to study it more), and a couple of other characters are witches as well, including the major villain. No one in Summerton seems particularly bothered by this; apparently neopagans are common enough in New Zealand. Keri and Sione, the other two main characters, don't exactly follow Janna immediately down the path of believing magic is real right off the bat, but neither do they make fun of her or act like this isn't a viable belief system. Daisy, the villain, is a practitioner what Janna calls "the left-hand path," the leader of an apparently older coven which has less use for things like the Three-Fold Law. This coven has been ritually sacrificing young men for many years to keep Summerton safe and prosperous.

All in all, the comparison text that immediately popped into my head when I finished The Shattering was The Wicker Man. This was a trippy 60s horror film which revolved around a Scottish island where pagan ways were still practiced, including human sacrifice, to insure the island's prosperity (particularly that of the apples grown there). The movie was novelized, and I read the novel when I was a teenager. Go ahead, have a giggle at the thought of good Mormon teenager Diana reading The Wicker Man; obviously I would not have been allowed to watch the film, but my dear sweet mother doesn't believe in monitoring her kids' library records, a liberalism she likely regrets now. At any rate, I LOVED that novelization and didn't even know it was a movie first until I got to college. I think I read The Wicker Man three or four times. I did not connect it then with other books I was reading--Rosemary Sutcliff and Marion Zimmer Bradley specifically--though it seems clear now that my brain and spirit had been primed for this sort of interest and need since I was a kid.

The Shattering is in a similar vein to The Wicker Man, though more nuanced, less shock-valuey, and more suitable for younger audiences. Though set in New Zealand, her previous book, Guardian of the Dead, straight-up utilized Maori mythology for its plot and characters, while The Shattering bases its supernatural dealings in Western myth, specifically the idea of the Summer King (go read your Frazer if you don't know what I mean). As someone interested in neopaganism generally, any fiction book with a thoughtful treatment of modern witchcraft gets kudos from me, especially since there are far too many which go in for shock'n'schlock and fall back on idiotic tropes like Satanic ritual abuse or witches sexily applying fly ointment to their genitals. Healey presents a balanced offering of both witches who use their power for good (such as Sandra-Claire and Janna's protection spell for Takeshi) and for evil (Daisy and her coven).

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