Dia Calhoun,
Aria of the Sea
(Winslow Press, 2000)

Dia Calhoun paints an arresting portrait of a talented young dancer in her second novel, Aria of the Sea.

Cerinthe Gale, daughter of a sailmaker, travels from her northern island home of Normost to Farandor, capital city of the Windward Kingdom. She leaves behind her a broken dream of being a folk healer after her own mother dies under her care. Her goal now is to audition for and win one of the few and coveted places in the School of Royal Dancers at the annual Trial, in accordance with her mother's dying wish.

Cerinthe is accepted by the school, although her route turns out to be rather circuitous. While her talent is recognized, her life as a "little daina" -- the title for the dance students -- is strewn with obstacles, not the least of which is Elianna, an aristocratic classmate who resents Cerinthe's talent and does her best to undermine her.

Among Cerinthe's friends is the troubled Sileree, a senior dancer, Tayla, an under-housemaid, and Mederi Grace, a woman who frightens yet fascinates Cerinthe. The mederis are also healers, but they are feared by most of the island folk, believing them to have magical powers acquired through evil and mysterious ways. Gradually, Cerinthe understands the methods of the mederis are different, but not evil and hardly mysterious.

Mederi Grace, sensing where Cerinthe's true talents lie, offers to take Cerinthe as an apprentice mederi, but Cerinthe, remembering her failure with her mother, refuses. Later, though, when called upon to help Elianna, Cerinthe finds herself torn between two talents and must make a decision which will affect the rest of her life.

Aria of the Sea provides interesting lively characters, a feisty heroine with whom the reader sympathizes instantly and a compelling story told against an elaborate backdrop. Calhoun depicts a culture with a relationship to the sea reflected in its names, its customs and its religion, down to the last detail. The society is convincing, and Calhoun's descriptions make it come alive. Her ballet training, described in the author's bio, has served her well in describing the arduous training the dancers undergo.

Aria of the Sea will appeal instantly to young readers who love fantasy, magic and dance, and Dia Calhoun is well on the way to establishing herself as a leading name in young adult fiction.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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