Wednesday 24 February 2010

The Puzzle Ring

“All her life Hannah had longed for magical adventures – to ride a unicorn, to find a dragon’s egg, to rub a lamp and conjure a genie.  Never had she expected a toad would spit an enchanted stone at her feet.  But then, she had never expected to discover she was the lost great-granddaughter of a countess either.”

Kate Forsyth is a well-known Australian fantasy author, but I have to confess this is the first of her books I’ve read.  This is also the first book review I've done on this blog - so two firsts at once, then.  I loved the story, and I think you will too. In fact I defy anyone not to want to read on after the opening line: “Hannah Rose Brown was not quite thirteen years old when she discovered her family was cursed.”

It’s got so many echoes of stories I adored as a child.  Wouldn’t you love to find out that, instead of plain Hannah Brown, you were really Lady Hannah Rose, heir to a Scottish castle?  Wouldn’t you love to have a bedroom in a tower?  Wouldn’t you love to meet a grandmother you never knew you had, unravel clues from cryptic diaries, discover magical secrets, find your way into the Hollow Hills, ride a water horse and meet Mary Queen of Scots?

Of course you would, or why are you visiting this blog?

The enchantment combines wildness and charm in a way that reminded me in places of Elizabeth Goudge’s classic ‘The Little White Horse’ – and Forsyth’s description of Hannah’s delightful tower room with its diamond-paned windows kicked off my reverie about magical rooms, a few posts back. 

The book begins in Australia but soon shifts to modern Scotland, where young Hannah – a determined and characterful girl – throws herself wholeheartedly into solving the mysteries of her new-found past.   Her father disappeared on the day she was born, and a curse has dogged her family ever since the fairy bride of one of her ancestors was burned as a witch in the 16th century.  Things can only be put right if the four parts of the Puzzle Ring are found and rejoined.

It’s a nice touch that Hannah is already a fantasy fan (unlike her sceptical scientific mother), and therefore able to take very much in her stride the magical phenomena that occur once she begins living at Wintersloe Castle, such as a goblin cat, and a toad which coughs up a mysterious stone ring or ‘hag-stone’. The hagstone gives Hannah fairy sight whenever she looks through it, and pretty soon, with the help of three new friends, she is journeying through the fairy hill and into the wild past.  Here, for a couple of chapters, the book feels rather more like historical fiction than fantasy as the plot takes in the Kirk o’ Fields murder of Queen Mary’s husband Lord Darnley.  But it’s all very exciting, and the fantasy elements soon return as brave Hannah plunges into the whirlpool known as the Hag’s Washtub to retrieve part of the Puzzle Ring. 

‘The Puzzle Ring’ is a splendid mixture of mystery, magic and humour.  Kate Forsyth knows her fairy lore, and there are some genuinely spine-chilling moments.  All the way through, I felt I was enjoying this book twice over – once for my grown-up self, and once for the ten-year-old me who would have curled up in a corner and read it over and over again.

Kate's been doing a brilliant blog tour.  Yesterday she could be found at Tales of Whimsy - and tomorrow she will be my guest here, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, answering my questions about Australian fantasy and the background to her own writing.  I know some of her answers are going to be very thought-provoking.  Do come and find out what she has to say.

The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth, is published in the UK by Scholastic, ISBN 978 1407 10284 9


  1. What a gorgeous cover! The Puzzle Ring sounds like a fun read for any age. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to your interview with Kate.

  2. I like Australian authors... don't know why, but they seem to write the kind of stories and books I enjoy reading, so I'll be visiting tomorrow, too! (Must get hold of Kate's book - anyone who wants to ride a unicorn is my kind of person.)

  3. It's such a fun read, and Kate is a lovely author.

  4. I am so looking forward to this one!

  5. I love the sound of this, it's gone straight on the wishlist.