Sophie Masson,
The Green Prince
(Hodder Headline, 2000)

Sophie Masson, an Australian expert on medieval European history and folklore who also happens to be the author of a number of excellent fantasy novels on those topics, is finally getting her work published in Great Britain and, to a limited extent, the U.S. Her latest work is one of her best yet and deserves much wider distribution and attention.

The Green Prince, using Welsh and Celtic folklore pertaining to the denizens of streams, rivers and the sea as its source of inspiration, is set in medieval England and opens in the small provincial village of Crundall. This is where the protagonist, 16-year-old orphan Jack Fisher with his eccentric affinity for aquatic environs and the fisherman's trade, makes his home.

Immediately, Masson's shimmering poetic prose style sweeps the reader into the story, for the text is so rich in vivid description, background detail and emotional intensity that the characters and plot spring to life. Jack, enjoying the annual local fair, is mesmerized by the main exhibit in this year's freak show -- a powerful-looking merman whose telepathic communications convince him that he is genuine. Vagan, the ambassador from the undersea Green Kingdom, is actually on a mission to find the hero needed to fight the fearsome Grimlow -- Monster of Darkness, Master of the Abyss -- and Jack, by reason of his mysterious heritage (later to be revealed), responds to the call to meet his destiny.

Jack, absconding with Vagan and aided by the amusing, froglike Shellycoat (the local spring-spirit), embarks on the adventure of his life gripped by confusion, doubts and the requisite excitement. Mer-magic enables the protagonist to function underwater with total ease as he undertakes a classic quest which involves journeying through the river province of the Lady Tam and the mysterious realm of Fanach of the Lake until the climax in the Green Kingdom ruled by the refreshingly female, eponymous Green Prince. Jack's life-transforming experiences in the water-world involve encounters with colorful characters out of legend: selkies, kabyls (kelpies) and the like, and most importantly, the half-human, strong and spirited Linn (to be the love of his life), Heiress of Fanach.

Masson's descriptions of the undersea realms and their inhabitants are delightfully imaginative, atmospheric, and full of wonder and inventiveness with such set pieces as: Lady Tam's "river cattle" and their magical connections to the origins of amber; "soul cages"; and the oddly computeresque, silvery, translucent sea-books being most memorable and affecting. Of course, all this and Jack's utterly believable hesitations, fears and uncertainties lead up to the confrontation with the terrifying Grimlow, an effectively resonant representation of the dark force, the evil monster that lurks not only in the literal Abyss, but also in the depths of all human hearts. How Jack copes with this trial, resolved in a classically folkloric manner, is both dramatically and emotionally satisfying and a fitting conclusion to this lovely fantasy.

The Green Prince is so colorfully aquatic, awash with swift-flowing, exciting plotting, with the deeper meanings a shining subtext serving to enhance the book's evocative entertainment value, that the diligent reader willing to fish for it in the vast ocean of the Internet, will be richly rewarded!

[ by Amy Harlib ]