THE MORA STONE
by Agnes-Mary Brooke
(Nelson, NZ: The Medlar Press)
Paperback: 249 pages
Reviewed by Siobhan Reeves
Sales of young-adult (YA) fiction have increased dramatically over the past two decades, driven in part by the successful transition to Hollywood of a number of YA fiction series, such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and others.
YA fiction is often erroneously referred to as its own literary genre, whereas in fact it is a category of fiction which includes many different genres: romance, horror, fantasy, historical, science fiction, etc. Thanks to J.K. Rowling’s incredible success, YA fiction in many readers’ minds is foremost associated with fantasy, and indeed many of the best-known works are concerned with fantasy themes, ranging from magic to fairy-tales to dragons and everything in between.
The Mora Stone, by New Zealand writer Agnes-Mary Brooke, is a YA fantasy novel that has a historical foundation. The Stones of Mora was the place where Swedish kings were elected, and its use is referred to in historical texts from the 13th to the 15th centuries. It is believed to have been destroyed around 1515 AD.
In Brooke’s novel, an orphaned young girl named Willow is given a broken ring on her 13th birthday. She slips it on and mysteriously travels back in time several hundred years earlier to a Scandinavian country she has visited in her dreams.
Here she becomes part of a dramatic and dangerous quest to ensure the coronation of the rightful heir to the throne at the Mora Stone, to which her ring is curiously bound.
The Mora Stone won two award places, nominated by the New Zealand Children’s Literature Foundation as one of the top 10 Notable Senior Fiction Books of 2001. The novel was also included on the initial list of nominees for the prestigious international Fantasy Awards for Children’s Literature in the US Mythopoeic Awards and was chosen on a Yahoo site as one of the top five children’s fantasy books.
The author, Agnes-Mary Brooke (also published as Amy Brooke), lives on New Zealand’s South Island and is a writer and commentator who has had a diverse career in the media. She has written many delightful books for children and also published an acclaimed poetry collection, Deep Down Things.
Her novel The Mora Stone has been carefully researched and provides in details great and small a delightful insight into Scandinavian history as well as the political, economic, religious and social context of the time contemporary to the setting of her story.
The countryside is richly described as the novel’s characters journey through the kingdom “through countryside languid with ripening crops and fruit swelling on trees, alongside paths filled with the scent of wild flowers in the long grass”.
The book continues: “Although much of the ground in the south was cleared and occupied by small farming settlements, there were still remnants of forest bordering each settlement, sombre pines clothing the steeper slopes, with sunlight filtering through oak, sycamore, elder and linden trees along the well-worn forest paths.”
As the scene shifts from island cities to dark forests and mysterious convents, the level of descriptive detail is evocative without being overwhelming.
A particular strength of the novel is how it deals with relationships between strangers, sisters and soul-mates: they are sincere and meaningful, drawing the reader further into the story.
The story includes noble and loyal young men and women as well as devious characters corrupted by greed and jealousy. It is an impressive tale of the evil misuse of power and the sacrifices that must be made by others to counter such evil. The character of Amise, the young queen-elect, is an inspiring role-model embodying the virtues of wisdom, perseverance and charity.
It is noteworthy that, while Brooke has written fantasy books for youngsters of all ages, including the delightful The Duck That Went to Heaven, this novel The Mora Stone definitely falls into the category of grown-up fantasy literature, as it deals with adult themes, albeit in non-explicit terms.
Accompanying the orphaned girl Willow through ancient Scandinavian history, the reader is taken on a thrilling journey from the ambiguous message with her late mother’s ring, Ubi aquilo te vocat retine me (“When the north wind calls your name, hold me fast”), to the final realisation of the cryptic Virgo in proelium provehetur (“A maid will ride forth into battle”).
The Mora Stone is an exciting fantasy novel which young adults are bound to relish.