Prospero’s Children by Jan Siegel Book Review

I started this book with really, really low expectations. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything of value so I was thinking that a teen book, YA section will probably keep my interest for an hour or so before I went out and then I can pick it up later and leisurely continue reading it without bothering too much about it.

But then, as I started reading, I had to double-back to specific sentences, paragraphs and then I got my pen out. I loved this.

…most legends germinate from a seed of truth and feed on the imagination of Man. We need our demons: they are symbols, overblown maybe, often exaggerated, but effective. They offer simple confrontations between Good and Evil. War, famine, and pestilence are much less straightforward.

This is the first book I’ve picked up in about 3 years about time travel and multi-verse and the lost city of Atlantis. (The last book being Hearts in Atlantis which had more to do with the Dark Tower than any lost civilization and lands).


“I sometimes think mankind is dangerously arrogant. We do a few sums, and then claim we have the universe off pat. we measure the spaces between the stars, and declare them empty. We set a limit on infinity. We are like the occupants of a closed room; having worked out everything within the range of our knowledge, we announce that the room and its contents are all that exists. Nothing beyond. Nothing unseen or unknown, incalculable or neffable. This is it. And then every so often God lifts the veil—twitches the curtain—and gives us a glimpse, just a glimpse, of something more. As if He wishes to show us how narrow is our vision, how meaningless the boundaries we have set for ourselves. I felt that when Fern was talking. Just for a minute I though: This is truth, there’s a world beyond all the jargon of unbelief.”

The Story

Our main character is introduced, Fernanda Capel, along with her younger brother Will, and their father Robin.

Fernanda – or Fern – is a 16 year old girl, used to acting quite the adult, helping her father manage the household, the finances, and chase away a series of would-be wives to her father (who clearly does not know a good woman when he sees one, at least according to Fern, as they are all imminently unsuitable). When a long lost relation leaves them in a will a creepy Victorian-era house out in the lonely, misty Yorkshire moors, the father, Robin, wants to fix up the place and sell. Fern, for her part, knows her father has no head for money and is eager to get back to the real center of the universe, London. When they move into the house, they start hearing strange noises at night, like a sniffing around the outside of the house, like something wanting to get in. A rock mysteriously appears and disappears from the top of a neighboring hill. Not all is as it seems and it appears the house is haunted even though the children do not believe in such things as the supernatural but at least are open to it.

I started thinking this is more like Shirley Jackson – The Haunting Of Hill House and I was about to get sucked into another horror story but it didn’t prove to be the case.  The book is about a mystery key which got stolen from the lost city of Atlantis, ended up in the hands of a mermaid, then in the hands of a fisherman, then occultist, then lost, then back into the hands of the girl’s great-great-uncle/cousin.

The girl and her brother, Will, start searching for this key. They hear snippets of conversations, have dreams and fear that their dad’s latest crush – a thin but good-looking woman who has long slinky hair, might be after the key as well. She seems to shimmer and always carries paintings with her that seem to draw you in.

Fern and Will begin to uncover the truth about this woman and it seems she is a witch and she seems to cast spells. It turns out she’s a descendant of the last city of Atlantis and has suffered a great loss in her life when she miscarried her child. She decides to find the key and open the door to Death and find her kid there. Unfortunately, the key is not as easy to find as it should be and Fern has to use her developing Gift to search for it. Add in the mix an old demon who wants the key as well and you have yourself a plot 🙂

I am only mortal, desperate, urgent. Spirits have endless ages in which to do nothing, if they so choose, but humans have death to hurry them on. Near or far, the end is always in sight. We have no time to stand and stare. Make your choice, Fernanda

The first half of the book is all about the Key and how they look for it. Middle is the portal to Death and the havoc it

After a time though I have to admit the book started to slow down for me. Not by any means did it get boring or unpleasant to read, but it just seemed to take its time and could have had better pacing. Clearly, as with many fantasy novels, Fern has some sort of mysterious and mystical inheritance coming her way, a destiny to fulfill, and a great and powerful evil to fight. Though she gets a mentor to help her along with some other allies, I think the book could have benefited from more fleshing out of the mentor, a better explanation of the mystical and magical rules of the setting (though there were some; an important one is having to be invited in to a home), and more time spent showing just whatever powers Fern is going to develop. I never did get a truly satisfying sense of Fern’s abilities or her potential. However, given her character, I definitely bought her trying to use these fledgling powers far, far before she was ready, that was well done (also well done was the sibling rivalry/friendship that propelled Will’s and Fern’s explorations).

Just when I thought things had started to slow down, a huge breath of fresh air (or maybe a second wind, that would be a better metaphor) comes in the book, the aforementioned time travel. I don’t want to discuss how it is done, why it is done, or certainly the outcome, but Fern travels back to ancient Atlantis. The setting of Atlantis itself was well done, with just enough touches of another language to give it an exotic flavor without bogging the reader down in needing a glossary (though one is provided). There are interesting characters in Atlantis – along with creatures – and the pace was fantastic, poetic writing yet well described action and engaging personalities.

I don’t want to say too much but the events that occur there really add a great deal of depth to both the opening scene with the sinking ship, the key, and the mermaid, as well as the growth of the character Fern.

I loved the end battle between Fern and the evil guy and the way Zohrane’s madness was portrayed. It showed a societal collapse due to ambition, power-hungry rulers and their inbred culture. No gods, no rules, no stopping until the stone that powered Atlantis was destroyed for the whim of another dream

All things resist destruction, according to their capacity. Rocks, pebbles, diamonds. Unity is instinctive to being

Fern also found her lover in the past and she had to abandon him in order to fulfill her mission. She knew it was temporary but still I was glad she got to meet someone.

I am his lover. They had made no promises, no vows; this was an interlude which might end with the next sunset or ebb with the changing tide. Yet she knew, with a certainty that belongs only to the young, that this was for always. Whether she had a year, or a week, or just a few hours, she would make it last forever

Worst of all, she realized, Zohrane was without fear, and fear is the braking system of intelligence

I loved this book the first time I read it and every time since. The writing is sooo wonderfully descriptive that I feel like I am there watching the whole book like a movie. Very well written and the fantasy is superb. Witches, Atlantis, demons and old gods
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