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Margaret Mahy

(1936-2012) Margaret Mahy was born in Whakatane, New Zealand and was inspired to write at a very young age by the adventure stories her father would tell her. She wrote speculative fiction for children and teens.

The Haunting: The beginning of Mahy’s illustrious career

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.

Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More

The Changeover: Has lost none of its potency

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

I read Margaret Mahy's Carnegie-winning novel first as a teenager and again just recently, in my twenties. Despite the passage of time, I found that The Changeover had lost none of its potency. It's still a striking coming-of-age story, still a nail-biting supernatural thriller, still a fascinating character study, and still a dark urban fairytale that fully deserves the recognition it got at the time of its first publication back in the 1980s. It has aged remarkably well, for as Mahy points out in her postscript, there is very little use of eighties lingo or technology. This story could just as easi... Read More

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

The 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; p... Read More

The Five Sisters: A whimsical adventure from a master storyteller

The Five Sisters by Margaret Mahy

You always know you're in for a magical, whimsical treat when reading something by Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's most best-loved children's authors. The Five Sisters (1997) is no exception, recounting the marvellous adventures of five paper dolls with linked hands.

On a hot summer day Sally entreats her Nana for a story, but instead watches as she folds a piece of paper and draws a doll with a crooked smile and strong running shoes called Alpha. But before the rest of the sisters can be coloured in, a kingfisher swoops down and snatches them up while Sally and her Nana are fetching lemonade.

The adventures that follow involve a near run-in with a lawnmower, an evil magician in the guise of a china pig, a playful breeze, a career as a bookmark, and several attempts to r... Read More

Maddigan’s Fantasia: A futuristic steampunk adventure

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy

Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events now known as the Great Chaos the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.

Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.

But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More

Tale of a Tail: A final gift from a master storyteller

Tale of a Tail by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand’s most beloved writers, the author of forty novels, over one hundred picture books, and a twice-winner of the Carnegie Medal. She passed away in 2012, and I’ll admit that I got a little tearful when I heard that there was still one last story of hers to be published posthumously.

As a final coda to Mahy’s prolific writing career, Tale of a Tail is a funny, magical little story about a boy called Tom who lives with his mother on Prodigy Street. Everything is ordinary enough until another Tom moves into the house at the end of the road. Tomasz Mirabilis is a strange-looking man with an even more extraordinary dog called Najki. Whenever Tom offers to take Najki out for a walk he finds that he has to be careful not to make any careless wishes, for with a wag of his tale, Najki has the habit of making them come true!

Whether ... Read More

More speculative fiction by Margaret Mahy

Dangerous Spaces

Dangerous Spaces — (1991) Ages 10 and up.  Publisher: Flora has always known that her house is haunted. But things have taken a sinister turn since her orphaned cousin Anthea moved in. Frightening scenes are played out in the night — and in the girls’ dreams. Although they don’t get along, the two must work together to escape their nightmares — before they get trapped forever.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Other Side of Silence — (1995) Ages 10 and up. Publisher: In her brilliant but argumentative family, Hero is different, because she doesn’t speak. Instead, she prefers the silence and solitude she finds climbing the trees high above her neighbors stately old house. But everything changes when Hero starts to do odd jobs for the neighbor — and discovers a shocking secret high up in the tower of the house.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Horribly Haunted School — (1997) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Monty is allergic to ghosts-if there’s one around, he sneezes. That’s how he discovers a ghost-girl called Lulu haunting an old vintage car at the bottom of the garden. Mrs Merryandrew is worried about her son and sends him off to the Brinsley Codd School for Sensible Thought, to get all the ideas of ghosts out of his mind. But the school is haunted too, by the most sensible person in history. Monty has to solve many problems before he can return home..

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsA Villain’s Night Out — (1999) Ages 9-12. Publisher: In Quidy Moot, Formby has dreamt up the perfect villain for the book he plans to write. But Squidy immediately appears as large as life — and he has his own ideas for the story. What will happen if Formby invents the other characters? Will they try and take over the book as well?

The Riddle of the Frozen PhantomThe Riddle of the Frozen Phantom — (2001) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Sophie Sapwood, daughter of the famous explorer, Bonniface Sapwood, discovers a whalebone pendant hidden at the back of her chest of drawers. At the same time, deep in the frozen wastes of the Antarctic, the ghost of Captain Cathcardo awakens from an ancient sleep, trapped in the Antarctic on his ship, The Riddle. His three cries for “Help” travel through the stratosphere to three different sets of ears — famous explorer Bonniface Sapwood, renowned naturalist Corona Wottley and oily villain Rancid Swarthy — descendant of Escher Black who was first mate on the Riddle. All three parties immediately organise trips to the Antarctic — all with the same goal in mind (solving the mystery of the Riddle) but each with very different intentions.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAlchemy — (2002) Young adult. Publisher: Mindblowing new novel from multi-awardwinning author, Margaret Mahy. Roland has everything a young man could wish for – good looks, enough money, a cool relationship with his mother, ready wit, intelligence, a sexy girlfriend, a perfect school record. So the fact that he committed a petty crime and that, somehow, one of his teachers knows about it is something he can hardly explain to himself, let alone anyone else. The teacher, Mr Hudson, uses this knowledge to blackmail Roland into befriending the school misfit — Jess Ferret. The reason he gives is concern for her wellbeing, but even Roland finds this rather far-fetched. And when Jess doesn’t respond to his confident advances, he becomes intrigued with the girl for his own reasons. Roland discovers Jess’s dark secret and also finds that he has one of his own…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Magician of Hoad — (2008) Young adult. Publisher: A hero, an ageing magician, a farm boy, a noble daughter and a mad prince meet on the edge of a city of tents. So begins an intricate tale of a boy with a troublesome eye, who is capable of extraordinary things. Forced from home, twelve-year-old Heriot’s unwilling steps lead to Diamond, first city of the Hoadara, who conquered his people generations before. By tradition, King and Hero share power in an uneasy alliance …and the resolution of their struggle will ultimately bring pain, terror, love and loss to the five who met that dusty day. Forced to serve the King as his magician, and strangely bound to Dysart, the mad prince, Heriot is isolated within the walls of Diamond, until he finds Cayley, a wild, ambiguous rat-of-the-city. Two lonely souls forge an unlikely friendship in the shadows of the city both are forced to call home. But when children become adults, childish games become deadly serious and when incipient madness erupts in chillingly violence Heriot is forced to explore the very heart of his magic. In this superbly cerebral fantasy for older readers, Margaret Mahy’s masterwork will surprise and thrill with its exploration of darkness, and delight with her undisputed mastery of the language of the heart and soul.

Portable GhostsPortable Ghosts — (2009) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Ditta is a smart sassy 12-year-old who wants to be a detective — and when she encounters a ghostly boy reading in a mysterious corner of her school library she has her first mystery to solve. But when her best friend Max tells her the bedroom floor in his brand new house is haunted too, the mysteries start coming thick and fast and before she knows it she has a whole handful to solve. With her nerdy computer-geek sister Mirabel, the three friends find that ghosts are much more adaptable than they ever thought possible and Ditta finds not one but two ways of making them portable. The relationship that develops between the children and the garrulous old man who sits in the park every day with his laptop is delightful, and adds a thoughtful dimension to the story which teachers will be able to use creatively to explore a number of interesting social issues. A wonderful, funny, quirky supernatural adventure for younger readers, Portable Ghosts is the perfect introduction to Mahy chapter books for nine-ten year olds and is full of her trademark wit and whimsy.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHeriot — (2009) Ages 9-12. Publisher:  Heriot is forced to serve as the King’s magician in the capital city of Diamond. Isolated and lonely, his only friends are the ‘mad prince’ Dysart and Cayley, a mysterious wild city child. But their friendship is about to be tested to the limit when chilling violence and ambition threatens to crush Diamond and its King.