This is a rich and entertaining book for young teenagers / middle-grade readers who enjoy fantasy of an imaginative kind. O’Ceea is a world which exists after a great flood, a place made up of groups of islands. In this world the power is with the Magicians and the Guilds: the magicians are people who have a ‘color’ and the guilds are carefully controlled so that no one who does not have all the requisite skills can enter them. But both magicians and guilds operate by carrying out ‘projections’: very little in this world is real beyond a basic ‘threadbare’ clothing or a thin cake for food. Appearances, smells and flavours, even warmth and texture sometimes, are projected on to the base for clothes, food, ornaments, entertainment, embellishments of every basic. The real is no longer valued, nor the skills in making something real. In the course of the book we follow several teenagers who are approaching the time when they will discover what skills or colours they themselves might have, and therefore reach adulthood and work out what they will be able to do with their lives. From a girl who can’t control her vicious but powerful projections to a boy whose father brought his community into disrepute by shedding magic, from an orphan with powers but no sponsor for the ceremony to a kindly but sad girl whose projections come out blue, the characters are interesting and sympathetic and the world a fascinating one, with the underlying debate over the values of real versus imaginary, and the cost of each. My main gripe is with the preface, which appears to be aimed at much younger children than the rest of the book, even explaining how the story is written in several volumes (I suspect many of the readers will be well aware of Harry Potter, for example, and quite at home with volumes). The first volume breaks off just at the beginning of the colour ceremony, and I hurried on straightaway to the second volume, which deals with the colour ceremony and its after-effects. They are various and dramatic, and hint more at something happening in the world which will change the way things are run - in a good way or a bad way is not yet clear. The story is exciting and the characters real: though there are rather a lot of them, the way the books are broken into large chunks means you get to know each group of characters well before moving on to the next group, and don’t end up muddling them. A terrific world and a great series.
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