Fern is a no-nonsense kind of girl, who acts as her befuddled father’s aid and her young brother Will’s mother-figure and certainly has no time for games or imaginings. But all that is about to change when her family inherit a home in Yorkshire and her father introduces two new business associates; the cold and creepy Javier Holt and the sensuous and manipulative Alison Redmond.
A painting of a lost city, a rock that looks like a cloaked man, a sinister talking idol, a ship figurehead, a large but silent wild dog…all these elements are dispersed throughout the novel, all of which are ultimately connected as Fern uncovers the mystery of the house. Forces of both good and evil are convinced that a mystical object is hidden in the house, a “key” which opens up the door to Time; and each individual after it wants it for a different reason. Though the story employs such typical fantasy-adventure components such as a pubescent heroine, the battle between good and evil, a summer holiday and mentor-wizards, Siegel rearranges them in such a way that is fresh and fascinating, and throws a curveball midway through that changes the entire tone of the novel.
Jan Siegel’s most prominent feature is her language, which is beautiful and poetic prose, put to best use in her descriptions, images and evocation of feelings. Only occasionally does it slip into trite or cliched formulas, but most of the time it lifts a fairly straightforward story into something unique and memorable. After a haunting and poetic prologue concerning a soulless mermaid, a drowned sailor and a strange key, the story switches to Fern’s point of view in the Eighties, and then (as mentioned) abruptly switches for a third time. As well as this, the story is littered with smaller enigmas, some which may possibly be picked up again in the sequels, some which exist only to enrich the story.
As a protagonist, Fern is not exactly a totally sympathetic character. She starts out cynical and unimaginative, but mellows out continuously as she is faced with phenomena that gets more and more bizarre as she goes along, finally immersing herself completely in her role as one who deals with the supernatural, a Gifted descendant of Atlantis. However, even when this occurs she comes across as rather distant from the reader, and I for one never felt completely invested in her character or the way in which she reacts to her circumstances.
Siegel instigates several traditional elements from legend and folklore; werewolves, unicorns, the importance of names, telekinesis, time-travel, house goblins and (most importantly) the city of Atlantis. The range of supernatural components incorporated into the novel is impressive and lends a sense of authenticity to the entire book, though she adds her own ideas such as a videotape that rivals the one featured in “The Ring”.
The time-traveling conceit (in which Fern is transported to Atlantis in its final days) is handled beautifully, with past and present colliding at exactly the right time, all Siegel’s plot points connected up, and a final sentence that will take your breath away as the entire book comes full circle. It’s one of the best uses of the time travel device I’ve seen in young adult fantasy. It won’t appeal to everyone, but when read with an open mind that is prepared to see the standard fantasy clichés turned upside-down, it is immensely rewarding.
Fern Capel — (2001-2003) Young Adult. The Witch Queen is also known as Witch’s Honour. Publisher: It began ages past in fabled Atlantis, when a mad, power-hungry queen forged a key to a door never meant to be opened by mortal man — its inception would hasten her own death and the extinction of her vainglorious race. For millennia the key lay forgotten beneath the waves, lost amid the ruins of what had been the most beautiful city on Earth. But however jealously the sea hoards its secrets, sooner or later it yields them up. Now, in present-day Yorkshire, that time has come. And for young Fernanda Capel, life will never be the same again…