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Also known as GRAY MAGIC,
This review is from: Steel Magic (The Magic Books) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is the second of the three novels collected in the omnibus THE MAGIC BOOKS (see), one of a set of at least six stand-alone novels with young, troubled protagonists who stumble across magical ways into other times or other worlds that give them a new perspective on their problems in the here-and-now. In some ways this story is more of a comfort read than the others, as the Lowrys (Greg, Sara, and Eric) have not had their personal world overturned by tragedy; they are just staying with an uncle at his half-wild estate while their parents are in Japan. Their problems have to do with phobias: Greg's fear of the dark, Sara's fear of insects, and Eric's fear of water.
In fact, the story begins on an upbeat note: Sara has just won a prize for the first time, and she and her brothers break in the new picnic basket by exploring the estate with a packed lunch. Having a supply of ordinary food - and stainless-steel cutlery - becomes critical very quickly, as they stumble upon, and through, a gate to another world, where Arthur and Merlin still do battle with the forces of darkness. To find their way back home, the kids need to help the people of Avalon retrieve three stolen magical artifacts, which can only be won back by those who can handle 'cold iron' - and they need to do it before their supply of safe food runs out and they begin forming unbreakable ties to Avalon. They thus divide the food between them, and the three pieces of steel cutlery, and each pursues a separate artifact and faces his or her worst fear. (This gets interesting, especially since Eric is protected by a spoon rather than anything more glamorous.)
Norton has used an Arthurian/semi-Arthurian setting in several other stories, including the full-length novels MERLIN'S MIRROR and HERE ABIDE MONSTERS, but none use the same setting or exactly the same characters. While Huon of the Horn appears in this story, the tone and style make STEEL MAGIC very, very different from Norton's book HUON OF THE HORN; if you enjoy STEEL MAGIC, that's not a reliable indicator as to whether you'll like HUON OF THE HORN.