Doyle, Debra, and James D. Macdonald: Circle of Magic series

When I got back from vacation, I didn’t feel like reading anything lengthy, so I picked up Debra Doyle and James Macdonald’s Circle of Magic series, six books that were recently re-published, some under different names:

  1. School of Wizardry
  2. Secret of the Tower (formerly Tournament and Tower)
  3. The Wizard’s Statute (formerly City by the Sea)
  4. Danger in the Palace (formerly The Prince’s Players)
  5. The Wizard’s Castle (formerly The Prisoners of Bell Castle)
  6. The High King’s Daughter

Reprinted in 2000-01 with new covers, the publisher was clearly hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the Harry Potter books: the protagonist is about fifteen for the bulk of the series, and the old covers (I have the third in an old edition) show him as a teen. The new ones, on the other hand, have a pre-adolescent boy on most of the covers. I like the old titles better, by and large, as less generic, but if it helped them sell, I shall not fuss.

[ Speaking of clearly hoping to capitalize on Harry Potter: I spotted a twenty-anniversary edition of Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be A Wizard that, well, take a look at this pastel cover for yourself. Fortunately the paperbacks’ covers have not been changed. ]

I don’t know the technical term for this format, but the physical books are slightly taller than a standard mass-market paperback and all about 140 pages. They’re clearly written for a fairly young audience, and after the first book, I was afraid that they were written at too young a level, as I found it rather predictable. I have faith in Doyle and Macdonald, however (and these each take me about twenty minutes to read), so I persevered, and I was rewarded: these do get more complex and interesting as they go. The series leans very heavily on conservation of characters—I think as many may re-appear, as only appear once—and this allows the authors to play with expectations and to show multiple sides of characters. It also helps tie the individual book-episodes together into more of a continuing story.

These were good solid storytelling, just as I expect from Doyle and Macdonald. If you know young Harry Potter fans, you could do worse than to give them these books.

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