Night of the Fifth Moon
by Anna Ciddor
Published by Allen & Unwin
306 pages, 2007
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
In her delightful Viking Magic series, Anna Ciddor introduced us to two Viking children who had some bizarre and often funny adventures. Magic was a part of everyday life; it never involved saving the world or being a chosen one. The protagonists were not royalty, not even long-lost royalty.
In Night of the Fifth Moon, the author takes us to pagan Ireland. The main character, Ket, is one of six children who are competing to become an anruth -- apprentice Druid. Only one will make it, the rest will be sent away, at the rate of one a month. After five months, the last two competitors will have to have worked out the message in a set of Ogham runes cut into a stick. Presumably if they both get it, they’ll be set another test, but fortunately, this doesn’t happen.
In the course of Night of the Fifth Moon, one by one, four of the characters drop out. Can the hero work out the message in time? Will his enemy get the job because Ket has done something unacceptable?
Ancient Ireland was a good place to be female. Women were allowed to become warriors and judges and Druids. In this novel, there are several strong female characters. We are introduced to early Irish society without any pauses to explain. All that is taken for granted, whether it is the Irish lifestyle or the legal system. There’s no Celtic Twilight nonsense and again, the main characters are not royalty. Ket’s father was a clan chief at the start of the novel, but had been dismissed and replaced with someone else just before the two sides could fight it out. Ket is passionate about becoming a Druid because he has seen how powerful a Druid can be: it was Faelan, his teacher, who had dismissed his father from the chieftainship. Who wants to be a stupid farmer or warrior anyway, he thinks. Boring! He’s not trying to save the world, either, though at one point in the story he does try to see to it that people in his corner of it don’t kill each other.
As in the Viking Magic series, magic is a part of everyday life. It is taken for granted that Druids can control the weather and find out who is lying in a legal case. When the hero brings some ancient warriors from their tomb to stop a battle, the reaction to what he has done from those about to fight is irritation rather than terror. It does prevent the battle, because it’s understood that you can’t actually kill people who are already dead, but that’s not the point. Ket has interfered, and, furthermore, made the head Druid look bad. Will the action of bringing dead warriors from their tomb interfere with his getting the job he wants? Even the friend whose life he has saved isn’t impressed.
There’s a sly humour in this book, as in all of Anna Ciddor’s fiction, though it’s not belly-laugh humour. As in the Viking stories, there are runes to be deciphered, though the Viking runes were listed at the back of each book so that young readers could decipher the message at the end or each chapter and, by the way, be able to write secret messages. These runes have to be worked out as Ket does it and the final piece of information only slots into place at the end of the book.
Children in the later years of primary school, whether boys or girls, should enjoy this one. | May 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.