Canadian Children's Book News Review - Twist of the Blade & Lake in the Clouds

Reviewed by: Mike Johnstone

In Twist of the Blade, the second book in The Shards of Excalibur series, Edward Willett intensifies the stakes for Ariane Forsythe and Wally Knight as they continue their quest (begun in Song of the Sword) against Rex Major, aka Merlin, to reforge Excalibur and save the world. The search for the second shard takes them to ancient caves in France, where Ariane discovers new dimensions of her power and Wally makes a fateful decision that severly tests their friendship.

With Lake in the Clouds, Book 3 of the series, Willett brings Ariane, Wally and Rex Major to New Zealand to locate the third shard. Along the way, Wally attempts to repair the damage he has done to Ariane's trust in him, while also realizing that he is possibly more than merely a sidekick. Ariane, meanwhile, becomes Rex Major's prisoner in order to save her Aunt Phyllis from harm, and she must confront her anger at Wally as well as the effects of Excalibur and the power of the Lady of the Lake upon her sense of self.

The strength of Willett's series really shine in these two recent books. Throughout both, the plot moves with enthralling velocity as Willett heightens the tension for Ariane and Wally. Not only does the race for the shards of Excalibur build momentum, but the challenges Ariane and Wally encounter from family, friends and enemies consistently deppen their characters and force them to grow in significant ways.

Moreover, Willet provides a wonderfully evocative sense of place. From Regina, Saskatchewan, to Lyon, France, to Queenstown, New Zealand, and the rivers and lakes and clouds through which Ariane and Wally Travel, Willett crafts immersive locations that lend genuine viour to the story. Especially powerful are the sequences in the caves of France in Twist of the Blade, as Ariane and Wally come upon drawings that are 35,000 years old and navigate dark, claustrophobic, treacherous tunnels to reach the second shard.

At the heart of these novels, however, is the evolving relationship between Ariane and Wally. In a world of absent parents (Ariane is an orphan; Wally is left to the care of a housekeeper), they must rely upon themselves and upon each other. They must learn to trust each other, for they are being changed by their constant contact with and use of old magic steeped in old conflicts, desires and mysteries - all of which become particularly vital in Lake in the Clouds. How Ariane and Wally deal with such changes, and with the increasing responsibilities of their quest, makes them truly admirable characters.

Willett's The Shards of Excalibur series, planned as five volumes, gives fresh life to the Arthurian legends, and there is, indeed, much to look forward to in the next two instalments. 

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