Magnificats: Return of the Demon Wind, by Gwyn Dolyn – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Magnificats: Return of the Demon Wind, by Gwyn Dolyn. Illustrated, map by the author.
La Jolla, CA, Plowshare Media, January 2017, trade paperback, $15.95 ([11 +] 239 [+ 9] pages), Kindle $3.95.
Magnificats is an unusual mixture of Young Adult fantasy and several specialized ethnic vocabularies, beginning with both faerie mythology and commonplace Irishisms; not to mention Big Words that aren’t in most Young Adult novels. 13-year-old redhaired Aoife “Apple” Standish, taunted as Red Apple Stand by her classmates in today’s Dublin, is blown by a sheegee wind to where a Magnificat is watching.
“Meanwhile, just down the street and past the cheese shop where her brother worked, Tak, the lanky old cat who lived under the ancient parish church on Apple’s route to school, sensed something awry in the autumn air. This sheegee was a concern. Sniffing, he tickled the air with his whiskers, then remarked, ‘Hmm. Interesting autumn wind; deliberate, with a stench of malice.’
While Tak was indeed a cat, he was not your everyday, meowing, rodent-chasing, scratching-up-the-furniture sort of cat. He was the leader (to be exact, Littern) of a clandestine order of numinous nine-life cats, known far and wide in creature kingdoms as Magnificats – keepers of sacred knowledge and masters of the winds.” (pgs. 1-2)
Dolyn peppers her novel with obscure words, Irish at first and later Egyptian, then others. “The strange sight of a girl caught in a whirlwind caused car screeching, men’s caubeens flying, and children diving for cover under their mums’ waving skirts.” (p. 4) Wikipedia defines a caubeen as an Irish peasant beret. “Gwyllion” is another Celtic magical word used a lot in just the first chapter – strangely, Wikipedia says it’s from Welsh mythology, not Irish. (It’s all Celtic.) Some other Irishisms in Chapter 1 that aren’t mythology-based are hooligan, shamrock, shenanigan, Finn-McCool, and gobsmacked. But when Apple goes to Egypt with other students on an archaeological dig, the vocabulary switches to Egyptian. “‘Hey App,’ Dan’s voice echoed across the flat sand, ‘we’re going to wrap this up. The winds are getting bad; looks like a haboob coming.’” (p. 29) You’ll learn more about cultures, winds, and mythologies (especially Irish) than you wanted to know:
“She [Apple] crumpled up the joyce her mum got at the airport exchange so she could have spending money for the layover in London, since the Brits did not accept the Euro.” (p. 17) [The Irish Republic today has adopted the Euro as currency, while the U.K. has kept the pound sterling.]
Tak is an ancient Magnificat, a world traveler on his ninth and last life:
“She [Miw, Tak’s mother] named Tak after the six-winged Ethiopean saint, Takle Haymanot, not China’s Taklimakan Desert, as was often speculated. His well-traveled nine lives made that assumption logical. Miw secretly hoped that the name might bring him wings, as his littermates sported. It did not. Yet a wingless Magnificat earning Littern status was a testament to Tak’s prowess.” (p. 9)
Tak hopes to relax and take his final life easy, under an old church in Dublin. He is disconcerted to see some obvious malicious magic being used against an apparently-normal 13-year-old girl. He dispels the sheegee wind (which has grown into a gwyllion tornado), but he can’t help wondering who the girl is that it was used against. Meanwhile, his magic cancellation of the wind has given Apple a glimpse “beyond the veil”:
“Sandwiched right between where she dipped one knee and looked up at the crucifix, Apple spotted a translucent gold cat atop the courtyard wall. Her glance rested on a sparkling cross that dangled from his jeweled collar. It was an Egyptian ankh, reflecting brightly in the afternoon sun. Apple and Tak locked eyes and a chill ran through both of them, from head to toe. ‘Why on earth would a transparent cat be wearin’ a key o’ life?’ Apple wondered under her breath.” (p. 6)
To give away a major spoiler right now, the main villain turns out to be Ephippas, the Arabian wind demon. Yes, Ephippas is genuine; I Googled him and he’s in the Bible, the Old Testament. What is an Arabian pre-Islamic wind demon doing in Ireland? Read Magnificats to find out.
Besides specialized words, Dolyn is adept with accents. There is Apple’s and others’ Irish accents:
“‘Oi’ll be t’ankin’ Spitface for her swinging-flap invention for a month o’ Sundies,’ Thom gloried.” (p. 6) [Spitface was Sir Isaac Newton’s pet cat. He invented the pet door for her. It’s on the Internet.]
There are incidental characters from Jamaica and Canada:
“Rasta’s face lit up as he tossed his head back in a gruff laugh, causing his white teeth to sparkle like pearls against his coffee-toned skin in the bright morning light. ‘This book tells about dah romance of all romances, Queen Saba and the wisest king in all dah land, Solomon. His great-great-and-fifty-greats-more was dah last emperor of Ethiopia. It is because of him that ol’ Rasta joined this expedition. That wise king hid his treasure with Queen Saba, a golden chest covered in angels, and I aim to find it.’” (pgs. 23-24)
“She [Apple] was petrified that the young woman would notice what it was, but instead, Rhonda politely handed the partially unwrapped stone back to her, and said, ‘Here you go. You’d better keep that pack zipped-up around here, eh?’” (p. 30)
Another character, Ms. Coleman in Phoenix, Arizona, is clearly a Southern African-American:
“‘Since I had no chil’ins of my own, Kryssy, I aim to teach you all I know about cat med’cin’. Danged if I am gonna let my Bibi’s secrets leave this world with me.’” (p. 77)
Cats are not the only animals anthropomorphized:
“Trailing Magnificats snagged the fractured aurora’s medicinal light particles to take to Magnificat Stubbs in Alaxsxaq, where the feline mayor was recovering from a vicious dog attack. Polaris’ wind brought early winter to a swaggering wolf pack, treading single file across the rocky tundra below, and they howled in protest. ‘We have not prepared our dens yet.’ The sudden frost over the steep hillsides angered bears for the same reason. Polaris [the polar bear wind of the north] was unmoved. His cold wind pressed southward over Turtle Island’s elk-filled, brown grass prairies, to the red-earthed Land of the Sun, where condors with eleven-foot wingspans made passage over the aqua waters of the regal Grand Canyon. Finally, Polaris settled at the top of the aspen and pine covered San Francisco Peaks, the seat of Moosa [a Maine Coon cat Magnificat], Clouder over the 56 nations of the Americas. The sudden wind caused the white underside of the aspen leaves to dance like butterflies.” (pgs. 63-64) [“Alaxsxaq” is the Aleut word from which the English “Alaska” is derived.]
“‘Your tail is still pretty quick for an old blue whale,’ Polaris joked tiredly as he eased into his turn.
Blue [the blue whale wind of the south] did a double midair flip to show him she still had that (and more) in her, accidentally sending a surging sea wave towards Oceania. ‘Oops’’ she giggled, in hopes the icebergs she sent rolling would go unnoticed. In the past, Blue had swept away entire populations of animals and [humans] with her ‘innocent’ wakes.” (p. 86)
But Magnificats keeps returning to Dublin, and either Apple or Tak:
“There was some evidence that she [Apple] was not dreaming at all. Like the time several huge cats with pheasant wings flew in and out of her room through a window sealed shut with paint from previous tenants. The next morning, Apple found the window wide open and in good working order. Another time, she swam in a blue lake with a bright orange cat wearing goggles, flippers, and a rubber swim cap, and awoke soaking wet with a fish in her bed. The most outlandish dream, by far, involved seven cats sitting at the foot of her bed, building a campfire, and fanning it with raven’s wings. ‘Apple, there’s a fire! We are getting out!’ her mom yelled. She had smelled the smoke and called Fire Services. Apple decided not to tell her about the dream, especially after the neighbors had to stand in the cold in their pajamas for three hours while firefighters cleared the flats.” (p. 41)
This review barely mentions a major character, Krystal Kay Kenner.
Magnificats (cover by the author) eventually brings into the adventure the winds of the other directions such as Thunderbird of the west, and more Magnificats besides Tak (“‘Good Lord and all, how many of you are there?’ April asked, exasperated to see yet another talking Magnificat.” [p. 198]; and they have Politics). Tak turns out to be a shapeshifter who can morph into a Bastet half-human form (he loses his fur, though). There is more than enough in the novel to make it a worthwhile, exotic adventure for furry fans.
It’s educational, too.
“Of Pogeyan lineage, originally from the Indian tribal regions, Alkina was a Mystifier – able to engender a mist-like covering through his skin, allowing his fur to change like a chameleon. He could project images out on his fur, like a television screen, to trick the eye. This skill ingratiated him to the Jawoyn [human] tribe of the north, who divided into groups by 10 different skin types. They placed high importance on markings. He could disappear in the shadow of a golden wattle flower as easily as he could blend in with the blue sky.” (p. 87) [Guess which ethnic group is referred to in this paragraph.]
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“This review barely mentions a major character, Krystal Kay Kenner.” A major character with really unfortunate initials.
The sequel may answer that…