The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Tricksters by Margaret Mahy fantasy book reviews YAThe Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand’s most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn’t be put off by the claims that this is a “young adult” novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy’s best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival’s Hide to celebrate Christmas; parents Jack and Naomi, eldest siblings Charlie and Christobel, and younger children Benny and Serena. Seventeen-year-old Harry (short for Ariadne) is smack-dab in the centre and suffers the fate of any middle-child, overshadowed by the older Christabel and starved for attention thanks to the younger two. To alleviate her frustration, Harry is writing a story — a wonderful story about dangerous men and voluptuous women that she keeps secret in her attic bedroom.

But there are other things to keep her busy, such as the added presence of Englishman Anthony Hesketh who is to share the family Christmas away from the more traditional winter holiday of his home-country, as well as Christabel’s best friend Emma and her young daughter Tibby. Furthermore, the house itself has a strange history of odd happenings concerning the drowning of Teddy Carnival years ago, and Harry herself is privy to a family secret that she knows could destroy her happy, comfortable home.

And then three brothers appear on the scene, claiming to be descendants of Teddy Carnival and charming most of the Hamilton family. But Harry knows there is something strange about Ovid, Felix and Hadfield — something that is deeply connected to the past, the house, her own story and the dynamics of family life. But who are they really? What is this strange connection to Felix that she feels? And do Ovid’s threats of ruining her family have any weight?

Like all good literature, The Tricksters is filled with subtle clues that demand close and attentive reading. Mahy’s language is dense and poetic, and it will probably require more than one reading to fully appreciate the layering and foreshadowing that Mahy spreads throughout the novel.

The growth from childhood to womanhood, the power of imagination and storytelling, the secretive nature of a family’s dynamics, the meeting of the supernatural and the mundane, and a creepy ghost/murder mystery — all this is packed into this immensely rich and intriguing novel.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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  1. I think I’ll pick this up for my daughter. Thanks!

  2. I remember reading this years ago and loving it! Thanks for bringing it back to the surface for me!

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