An Older Kind of MagicColumbine: This is a children’s book by the author of the brilliant fantasy series The Song of Wirrun. While that series is concerned with the vastnesses of the land and the traditions of its aboriginal people, this book is very much about the city and the people of the city. However, here too the encounters with the ‘hidden folk’ are true to the spirit of the land. The author admits she has little to go on: “a few spare and undescriptive words”, but she “brooded over those spare words, trying to capture the character of each creature and its place in that mysterious world at the edge of Australian vision.” The result, to my mind, is convincing and captivating.

The story interweaves different kinds of magic – the older kind is the magic of the land and its creatures, but there is also the illusion magic represented by the Magic Shop, the sorcery of spells and potions in the book found by Benny, the magic of mind manipulation exemplified by the advertising man Ernest Hawke and the magic of the city itself, which could be said to be the child of Commerce. Above them all is the magic of the comet, returning to bypass earth again after a thousand years – in the hour of its arrival the most extraordinary things happen.

There is something of the familiar plot of children and fairy folk combining to upset the plans of the greedy developers – here embodied by the champion of Commerce Sir Mortimer Wyvern who wants to build a car park in the Botanical Gardens. Yet there is no co-operation. The Nyols, small, stone-grey, shadowy creatures who live in underground caverns, are simple and playful – their involvement at the crucial time is entirely accidental. It is Sir Mortimer who comes face to face with them, and his attempts to communicate get him nowhere. The children are pretty much unaware of the old creatures around them, though Selina sometimes catches a puzzling glimpse of the Bitarr, and Benny accidentally conjures a Pot-Koorok, a frog-like swamp trickster, while trying a spell.

I particularly liked the portrayal of the relationship between land and city: “The city… whispered in the splashing of its fountains and breathed in the tides of its harbour. It spread its net of lights to shut out the stars, and held the land in a grip of concrete and steel. Yet deep under the city, forgotten under the concrete, the land was still there. Its soil was there, stripped of ferns and shut away forever from the sun. Its stone was there, deep and abiding; and out of the stone the Nyols crept, the old creatures of the land.”