An exciting and original debut from an Irish author
Spoiler-free review of Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond
I discovered this after seeing it mentioned on social media. As author Amy Bond is Irish (and so am I), a librarian, and this was her first novel, I downloaded a sample of the ebook out of curiosity. The main character and the setting were so intriguing, I had to find out what happened next, and purchased it immediately.
Morgana Mage is an eleven-year-old who lives in a forest full of witches, on the outskirts of a futuristic city which is powered by robots and innovative technology. The witches and city folk are enormously suspicious and dismissive of one another. Although they live side by side, a massive chasm of misunderstanding and misinformation exists between them. It is illegal to practise magic within the city limits and an unspoken rule forbids robotics among the witches.
Unfortunately for Morgana, she struggles to find either a talent for, or an interest in, witchcraft. Morgana instead finds the allure of the city irresistible and longs to learn more about the machines that sustain it. She risks not only being cast out of her own community, but also being thrust into one that will never accept her.
Amy Bond creates a captivating world that is part science-fiction and part fantasy. The juxtaposition of the logical next to that which cannot be explained, and the people who align themselves on either side, introduces an interesting tension. The characters are compelling and it's fantastic to see that they are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It was fun to recognise so many Irish names too.
The story champions inclusivity and cooperation between cultures, no matter how much they might appear to clash. Class division and intolerance are explored in an entirely fresh way. As Amy Bond is Irish, I wonder if the city dwellers' treatment of magical folk is inspired by discrimination against the traveller community here in Ireland. As with conflicts that can arise between settled people and travellers here, there's an underlying lack of trust and a deficit of supports to assist integration.
Whether or not these parallels are intentional or accidental, the entire premise is an extremely thought-provoking one, with universal appeal. This book encourages children to examine what their own prejudices might be, and to dismantle them. The story also inspires readers to follow their dreams, trust in their abilities, and reject any limits placed on them by others.
That's probably all I can say without giving too much away! I enjoyed this a lot and could easily imagine it as a Studio Ghibli adaptation. I would love to see the universe that Amy Bond has invented brought to life on screen, especially its city and the outfits worn there. The cover illustration and vignettes by Nan Lawson are gorgeous too. If you're looking for an unusual and absorbing lockdown escape, Morgana Mage's charming land of flying bathtubs and robotic felines certainly delivers.