Spirit Sight

6 January 2021

Spirit Sight: Last of the Gifted, Book One
by Marie Powell
Published by Wood Dragon Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$18.99   ISBN 9-781989-078280

I’m grateful that Regina writer Marie Powell provided a map (Wales, 1282), glossary, and character list with her galloping new young adult fantasy, Spirit Sight: Last of the Gifted, Book One, because as one who doesn’t naturally gravitate toward the oft complex fantasy genre, these guideposts were helpful. Powell’s a veteran writer – see her complete library of books at mariepowell.ca – with more than forty books published, and she’s clearly not lacking one iota in inspiration.

She explains that this particular novel series – the characters return in Last of the Gifted: Water Sight, Book Two – was inspired by her “adventures in castle-hopping across North Wales to explore her family roots” in 2006. The amount of research required to write a book of this complexity is impressive, and the writing’s made even more interesting as Powell fused fact and fiction: she based the story on the real-life Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d. 1282), his French wife Elinor – who was held captive by England’s King Edward for three years – and the fictional characters of supernaturally-gifted siblings Catrin and Hyw. The teenaged brother and sister are close to each other and their “mam” and “da,” who also play major roles in the tale: their mother, Adara, is a host at the royal family’s Garth Celyn castle, and their father, Bran, is a warrior and Llywelyn’s steward, ie: number one bodyguard. 

We know that Elinor died while giving birth before the novel begins, and it’s critical that her child – baby Gwenllian – be kept safe during this fractious time in history: the Welsh are under attack by the “devil-spawned” English. Cat and Hyw are both just learning how to use the clandestine special gifts they’ve inherited from their mother’s ancestors: Catrin can see the future in drops of water, and Hyw – who’s spent four years in the borderlands, “[learning] the ways and customs of their English enemy” by “[fostering] at the court of Lord Shrewsbury” – has the ability to inhabit the minds and bodies of birds and animals, and, as it happens, share a consciousness with slain Prince Llywelyn, which really comes in handy.

As one might guess of a fantasy set in this particular time and place, there’s a goodly amount of gore: “the English knight held the prince’s head high in the air, roaring with triumph. Blood gushed from the prince’s headless body, still kneeling in the field, impaled by the spear …”. Local colour is painted through Welsh words, credible descriptions of landscape and battles (“the Welsh had leather jerkins and lances, and bright war paint on their faces”), customs (ie: castle bards provide merriment through riddles and hijinks), and food … many a flagon of ale is enjoyed, and “laverbread” (“tasty seaweed rolled with oats”) is eaten.  

The novel’s women are mostly portrayed in traditional roles (ie: childcare, kitchen duties, embroidering crests), but Cat also “trains” to prepare herself for hand-to-hand combat by throwing javelins and knives. Aye, I believe readers can expect plenty from Cat in Powell’s next book.   


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