Shalanna Collins,
Dulcinea, or Wizardry A-Flute
(Xlibris/Random House Ventures, 2001)

Pseudonymous author Shalanna Collins' first novel, the first runner-up in the 1996 Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, deserves its accolades, for this fantasy bildungsroman delights in conception, character-building, prose and plot. The eponymous narrator, age 16, dwells in a meticulously detailed, invented, pre-industrial world where magical energy abounds. So too does a variety of religions (one even having a very close resemblance to Christianity) and schools of magical discipline that have their own ways of harnessing this power, inextricably part of the fundamental nature of their reality.

Dulcinea Brown tells her story in a distinctive voice rich in colloquial expressions, disarming candor, emotional intensity and fascination with her world and her discoveries of her burgeoning magical powers, gifts adolescents grow into as part of the maturation process. The protagonist, daughter of an accomplished mage and widower, Hector Otto Brown, village apothecary, assists her father, learning his trade. This complacent existence soon gets disrupted by the arrival of the youth Raz Songsterson who becomes Hector Brown's new apprentice. Raz, not what he seems, possesses considerable sorcerous power which he at first conceals from Dulcinea and her father. Raz uses their apothecary shop to elude the diabolical Society of Mages out to exact retribution for spying and for theft of the Dragonstone, which controls dragons. When it becomes obvious to Hector that Raz commands advanced magical abilities that no mere student should, Dulcinea's father tries to discover Raz's secret, an act that embroils himself and his daughter in a battle against the Society. This cabal cares only for accumulating power even at the cost of breaching the very fabric of reality, doing so by forcing open a gate between the physical plane and the dragon's world. If not stopped, they could endanger the stability of existence with their uncontrolled transfers of power between the two continuums.

Dulcinea, with Raz's tutelage, learns to use her unexpected gift for flute magic she has tumbled upon. She employs it to save her district's capital, Laderia City, from being destroyed by a sorcerously conjured blue-scaled dragon illegally transported from an alternate space/time matrix and controlled by the nefarious Society. The villainous Mages, in a bid for world domination, plan to use the dragon on an unsuspecting Laderia City at the height of Festival Week. To thwart the malefactors, Dulcinea and Raz must use her newfangled flute magic and all the luck and skill they can muster, in an exciting effort that leads to interesting consequences involving the dragon, Dulcinea's future training, and her relationships with her father and with Raz.

As Dulcinea records her adventures, she reveals the pain and wonder of first love, discovers the humanity of parents and learns to become self-reliant and more confident and to accept greater responsibility -- all the while never losing her sense of humor. The protagonist's narrative describes magical magical theory and practice in great detail because it directly pertains to and effects every exciting event she experiences. This treats the reader to vivid depictions of spells, conjurations, visualizations and focusing exercises, mystical minutiae that always fascinates, such intricacy greatly enhancing the verisimilitude of the story.

Shalanna Collins' fantasy novel inevitably invites comparisons to Harry Potter, but her book, much more otherworldly and with a feminist viewpoint, more favorably equates with the works of the magisterial Diana Wynne Jones. All told, Dulcinea, or Wizardry A-Flute distinguishes itself with its own richly flavored voice replete with ingenuity and invention that quickly enchants the reader. Happily, this novel launches a series, which, this first volume indicates, will feature satisfying endings that hint at tantalizing developments to come. Allow Shalanna Collins' wizardly writing to cast its delightful spell on you!

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 16 October 2001

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