Book Review: The Pictish Child by Jane Yolen

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The entire Tartan Magic Trilogy seems to squeeze its happenings into one family vacation, a visit by the American twins Jennifer and Peter, their kid sister Molly, and their parents to relatives in Scotland. In this second instalment, they have scarcely recovered from their first battle against an ancient, evil, Scottish wizard when a girl from far in the past suddenly turns up in their lives. Ninia belongs to the pre-Christian race of Picts, and has been snatched out of her time at a moment when her life and the future of her people were in jeopardy.

Now Ninia’s story is mixed up with the present-day affairs of three children who are still coming to terms with the existence of magic. What would they do without a witchy grandma, a talking dog, and a talking horse who, like the girl, belongs to the time of the Picts? They certainly wouldn’t stand much chance against a vaporous darkness that could seep under doors and windows, if the sills hadn’t been salted. How long can the kids stay indoors with a horse, a dog, and a wild child whose life story is carved on enormous stones in the town museum? How can they change history while stopping an evil plot to steal the magical powers from Gran and her friends? And how will they have time for a third adventure and before their vacation ends?

This could be a cautionary tale against blowing your vacation in a rainy country full of narrow streets where they drive on the wrong side of the road. Or, it could be a delightful adventure in Scottish magic, tailor-made for young American readers. If you’re a kid who yearns for a break from the modern and mundane, here is a quick-reading romp for you, complete with twins who complete each other’s sentences and a glossary of Scottish lingo, so you will ken what everyone is havering aboot. If you missed Book 1, it is titled The Wizard’s Map. The third and final book is The Bagpiper’s Ghost.