Review by Hira Peracha
Wood Dragon Books, August 2020
274 pages, paperback, $18.99 CAD, 978-1-989078-28-0
Ages 12+, Grades 7+
Young Adult, Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical Fiction
His talons ached for the soft flesh and his beak thrust forward—
No, not his. It was the hawk’s beak that longed to rip the flesh from bone and feather. Hyw grasped the bird’s thoughts again and turned its head toward Prince Llywelyn’s tower. There! A streak of movement across the grass. Was it some grotesque beast from the past? He urged the hawk to circle until he could see it more clearly. A single horse and rider galloped toward Garth Celyn.
A messenger! Fast horses in wartime never bring good news. Had the English broken the peace again? Hyw gasped, and his connection to the bird faltered.
Spirit Sight by Marie Powell is the first of two books in the Last of the Gifted series, interweaving historical fiction and fantasy in a fast-paced, war-riddled take on the Anglo-Welsh war in the thirteenth century. The King of England and his army are on their way to invade Wales and eradicate the Cymry, the Welsh. With little time and much to lose, Llywelyn, the Prince of Wales, enlists the help of Hyw, a 16-year-old warrior in training, after he learns of Hyw’s special abilities. Prince Llywelyn sends Hyw to spy on the English army—Hyw agrees, hoping that this is his chance at finally becoming a teulu, the prince’s special bodyguard.
Hyw and his 14-year-old sister, Cat, are the “last of the gifted”—their gifts a well-guarded secret from all but their family. While these gifts have been passed down through generations, skipping some family members and gracing others, both Hyw and Cat inherited gifts, providing them with connections to nature.
While Hyw’s gift of sharing the mind with animals is established at the beginning of the novel, the novel explores Cat’s struggles with coming to terms with her newly discovered gift of clairvoyance: seeing visions of the future in drops of water. The siblings have not yet mastered their gifts, but both work to overcome the hardships associated with them. Hyw has to figure out how to keep his powers a secret from the English while treading carefully through their army as a spy. Separated by war, Cat remains back in Wales, learning how to use her sight to alter the future in an attempt to protect her brother and save the people around her with the support of her mother, a bee charmer.
Powell’s storytelling is immersive and tense, rich with incorporating Old Welsh culture and language. Alongside the main plot conflict between the English and the Welsh, Powell delves into character-leveled subplots as Hyw and Cat explore the challenges of becoming accustomed to new powers, dealing with war, and the difficulty of being patient and sacrificing time and safety when many lives are at stake. Despite the long list of characters in this novel, Powell has developed well-rounded characters that avoid confusion for the reader. Indeed, I found myself intrigued by many of the side characters due to their strong personalities.
Chapters shift between Hyw and Cat’s perspectives, both in third person point of view. This point of view distances the readers from the characters, giving the world that Powell has built a wider lens to look through. The world reads as vast and grand, in which two seemingly small characters have large roles to undertake. Cat and Hyw’s voices did not seem very different from each other, however, I do appreciate the depth of character development that Powell creates. Readers will be able to feel close to the siblings and be invested in each journey. I also liked how Powell incorporated the siblings’ gifts. The prose is visceral, especially when portraying Hyw’s connection with animals and Cat’s visions. Readers are transferred into a dream-like state with Cat’s visions, and into a hasty, instinctive state when Hyw links with animals. Getting both perspectives is integral to the story’s progression and allows readers to connect with both Hyw and Cat and their heroic missions.
This first part of the Last of the Gifted duology sets up a fantastical world in which stakes are high, the characters are interesting, and, just like in the real world, not everything is fully resolved. Historical fiction and magic blend together to create a wonderful journey for readers to enjoy. Powell’s research is evident in this medieval fantasy and will bring young readers straight into the world of thirteenth-century Wales.
Hira Peracha is a graduate from the Psychology and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry.