By William G. Muir
Before I start this review there is something I must confess. I am in no way a country boy, nor am I fascinated with the South. I know, being from a small town in southern Indiana that might come as a shock. I just have two things to say, first to all my fellow citizen of southern Indiana you are not part of the South, so stop acting like you are. The second thing I would like to say is that I am a city boy at heart.
I have been on a few farms in my time, and some of them were lovely place. It just wasn’t for me though. There is nothing there that holds my interest. Instead of opening up a window and hearing the sounds of barn yard animal and farm equipment, I need to hear the sound of traffic going by, people yelling at each other from half a block away, and the ever present sirens or car alarms going off.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love the small town I live in. It is close enough to the Louisville Metro area that I can get all those things, but still be able to get away from them at the end of the day.
I bring this up because the book I am about to review is about the rodeo. You really can’t get any more southern than the rodeo. Well maybe if you are line dancing in a yard with at least one car up on cinder blocks. Having said all of this, I have to admit that I really enjoyed Solstice Magic by Jean Stringam. But that is probably because the book is set in Canada.
I have to plead ignorance here, I was not aware that the rodeo existed anywhere outside the United States. I thought this was a sport that was solely practiced in America. I had no idea that other countries would find value in the rodeo. To be fair though my only knowledge of Canada are from shows like You Can’t Do That On Television, SCTV, The Red Green Show and The Kids In The Hall. Unless you know those shows were produced in Canada you would think they were American shows.
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the rodeo exist above the US/Canadian boarder.
Before I go any farther I must say this book is not solely focused on the rodeo. Things outside the world of the rodeo take place in this book as well. As the title of this book suggest the major plot developments in the book revolve around the solstice (summer) and involves magic. Yes this is a fantasy novel. Solstice Magic is a low fantasy novel.
For those that don’t know high fantasy is set in an imaginary world very different from our own and the characters in those types of stories are caught in an epic struggle. Example of high fantasy would include The Lord Of The Rings and A Game Of Thrones. Low fantasy novels are those that set in the real world or fictional albeit rational version of the real world. Low fantasy would be Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twilight.
So what is Solstice Magic about if not all rodeo? The first chapter is about the rodeo. Here we meet Vince Lapin and two other characters that will play a significant role later on in the book. Vince is one of the rodeo cowboys, a bull rider. For several years now, between the solstice and the Calgary Stampede he works the Canadian rodeo circuit. We are also introduced to Grant Rollins and his foster daughter Cleo. Mr. Rollins is CEO of Upstart Oil and a member of the Calgary Stampede board.
It has come to the boards attention that the high quality of cowboys performing at the Calgary Stampede has caused many of the fans to believe the event is too polished, that it might be scripted. Someone suggest that they bring back the Old-Time Rodeo Clowns to bring back some excitement, give the fans something to laugh about. Grant Rollins took to the idea and help push it through the board. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
During the last ride of the day we meet contestant #33, who is not your normal rodeo clown. In that she is female. We learn later on in the book just how unusual she really is. None of that matters now cause clown #33 does a hell of a job entertaining the crowd. And this catches the eye of Vince who has a feeling he knows just who she might be.
It is in the next couple chapters that we are introduced to the characters that will play a major role throughout the rest of the book.
Zo (Zorian) Luki is a Canadian born teenage girl who is of Ukraine descent. She is your average teenage girl who wants more than anything to own a rabbit of her own, just like her best friend Jaki Turchin, so that she can join the jumping club. She just needs to find a way to get her parents to let her have one.
A rabbit is not only thing that Jaki has that Zo wants, there is also her older brother Ivan. Being life long friends with Jaki, Zo has always known Ivan as well. Both families having neighboring farms meant the three of them rode the same bus school together. And now that Zo has entered high school her feeling for her best friend’s brother have started to change. This is not something see feels she can share with Jaki.
Life for Zo and her parents is about to change. The dynamic of their three member family is going to be disrupted with the addition to their home. Zo Ukrainian grandmother, Baba (grandmother) Dolia, is moving to Canada to be with her only remaining relatives, her son and his family. Baba Dolia is not a very nice person. As a young mother she decided to remain in the Ukraine rather than move to Canada with her husband and infant son.
Because Baba Dolia believes the old Ukrainian ways are the best, nothing about Canada or the way Zo is being raised or the way she acts is ever good enough for her. She sets out to remake Zo into a proper person by trying to teach her the Ukrainian ways. This ends up just making Zo’s life miserable.
But Baba Dolia did not come alone. She brought her pet along, Perun, a Caucasian Ovcharka. At a 180 pounds of muscle, Perun is beast of a dog. On top of that he has a bad attitude and only cares for one person in this world, and that is his mistress Baba Dolia. Anybody else that gets in his way or threatens Baba Dolia, Lord help them.
Zo doesn’t care much Perun. As it happens, to help Zo with the changes that were about to occur, her mother gives in and allows her to get a rabbit. What Zo thought would only bring her joy turns out to bring conflict within the home. Baba Dolia is not to fond of animals living in the house. She thinks Zo’s new rabbit is vermin and will only bring sickness with it.
Here is where the fantasy elements come into the book. A good portion of the book is seen through the eyes of Susie. We get a look into what is going on in the world of the animals. I have to say I didn’t mind this at all, I thought the author handled this very well. It was a little anthropomorphizing the animals, but not to such a degree that they loose all aspect of being animals. There was the right balance between having the insight into the animal world with emotions we would associate with humans but still keeping their world separate from that of humans.
That is until the second half of the book. You remember this book is suppose to be about the rodeo, well here we finally get back to it. But not before an incident that involves Baba Dolia, Susie, and Zo. An incident that left Zo injured after she was chased down by Perun. After being sat on by Zo’s grandmother Susie finds herself in a barrel with a raging bull bearing down on her. All she can do is hope to hang on for dear life.
If you haven’t guessed what is going on, Susie has been turned into a human. And just not any human at that, it turns out she is contestant #33 from earlier in the book. That’s right, she is the Old-Time Rodeo Clown. And Vince spots this right a way.
How can that be you might be asking? Well because he too is a rabbit turned human. It seems like for several years now that his “friend” Cleo has been using the magic of the summer Solstice to change Vince into a human. And it just so happens that whatever powers she was using caused Susie to be drawn into the human world as well.
With Vince’s help Susie learns how to act human, like not standing to close to another person or that she needs to bath and wear fresh clothes everyday. Or else she runs the risk of losing her new job as a rodeo clown. Vince warns her that she can’t let anybody know that she is a lady, people who work the rodeo circuit are extremely superstitious. If they were to find out that she was female, it could end very badly for her.
That seems like a good enough place to stop right there. You can guess what comes next, Susie must somehow become a rabbit again and find a way back home to her Zo.
I thought Solstice Magic was an excellent read. The target audience for this book is the Young Adult market. I do believe that this book is interesting enough to hold any teenagers attention. Whether they be a kid from the country or a city kid, the personal connection between the characters are familiar enough for anybody to relate with. Who hasn’t had an older family member that disapprove of who they are and what they do.
Let us not forget what it felt like to have your very first crush on somebody.
Do give this book a try, and head on over to Jean Stingam website were you can listen to an original song she has composed for this book, you can also download the sheet music as well.