Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, September 2018
Reviewed by Jeffrey Steven Abrams
In a world influenced by King Arthur and Merlin’s magic, nineteen-year-old Elaine Grey yearns for adventure. Named by her father after two women: Lady Chalott, the imprisoned noblewoman from Tennyson’s poem who can only view Camelot through a mirror, and the Grail Maiden, protector of the Holy Grail, Elaine seeks, above everything else, that mystical chalice. However, being of strong mind and will, she also wants to be the first female to work as a Scotland Yard magician.
Consumed by wanderlust, she leaves her home in Glastonbury and moves to Cornwall, taking a job as a magic tutor for the daughter of Lord Roswarne. The daughter, it turns out, is Elaine’s age, has magical potential, but needs a tutor to harness her energy.
Following a terrifying scene where Elaine demonstrates her conjuring abilities to Lady and Lord Roswarne, the young magician is allowed to meet their daughter.
Daughter Morgan, beautifully painted by the author, seems to be made of shadows. Dark haired and adorned in purple satin, images swirl around her. In the author’s own words, “She grasped my hand, my fingers passing through the mists of half-seen others.”
For months, the two young women toil over enchantment textbooks, but make no progress toward controlling Morgan’s magic. Then, late one night, Morgan catches Elaine performing “wild magic” and is forever changed. The two comrades decide to combine their efforts to find the Holy Grail. A beautiful and tender friendship develops, but unfortunately ends in tragedy as they use their magic to steal a prize that cannot be owned.
While an exact date is never mentioned, the rich descriptions of Elaine’s home abbey, its chapel, and the Roswarne’s opulent castle give the story a distinctly Victorian feel. The scent of beeswax, candle lit rooms, the taste of nectar, and fragrantly colored stained-glass windows combine to create a captivating picture.
The young women in the story share a beautiful innocence that is difficult to conceive of in today’s world. I’m certainly no expert, but perhaps nineteen-year-old girls from privileged families were really that sheltered in the early 1800s. Personally, I would have found them a bit more believable had they been pre-teenagers.
A few times throughout the story, a thread about “opening the world of academic magic to women,” is woven into the narrative. Unfortunately, the interesting topic is never properly explored, and at least for me, made it feel out of place.
“The Mirror Crack’d” is a story for those who love immersing themselves in an alternate time. Every sense is employed, making the experience vivid, compelling, and ultimately satisfying.