Peter Dickinson,
The Ropemaker
(Delacorte, 2001)

Peter Dickinson has never taken the easy route in his novels for children and young adults. His plots are elegantly layered and complex, requiring patience and attention from the reader, but the rewards are great. Such is the case with The Ropemaker, a well-wrought fantasy with intriguing and original characters.

For generations, the Valley has been sealed off from intruders. A snow-choked pass keeps out the marauding wild horsemen of the north while the Emperor's armies are prevented from entering the Valley from the south by a great forest that renders males unconscious. These protections require rituals from the descendants of those two individuals who succeeded in getting them installed in the first place.

But now the safeguards are disintegrating and the magic is fading. It falls to Tilja and Tahl, descendants of the original two, to travel into the Empire seeking the magician who first sealed the Valley. With them come Tahl's blind grandfather, Alnor, and Meena, Tilja's irascible grandmother.

Unlike her three companions, Tilja is not at all sensitive to magic and, in fact, is capable of damping out or undoing magic in others or in magical objects. This proves to be not only useful but in fact is their only hope of making their way through the hierarchical and corrupt Empire.

They encounter a very peculiar magician along the way, an awkward young man with a curious talent with ropes. This talent, Tilja is to learn, runs deeper than might be imagined.

Dickinson's plot is dynamically written, and he does not write down to the reader. He involves the reader in the development of the story and characters. The four are very unlikely heroes. Tilja is self-absorbed with the knowledge that she will not be the one to inherit her family's farm, and her preoccupation borders on self-pity. Alnor compensates for his blindness by assuming charge of the party. Tahl's easygoing openness is as much a liability as an asset, and Meena is impulsive and stubborn. The four learn to work together when it is clear that nothing else will ensure their survival, but there are no shortcuts to that end.

Rich in language and thoughtful in structure, Peter Dickinson's The Ropemaker will delight and challenge fans of authors such as Philip Pullman or Robin McKinley.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 22 June 2002

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