Released: June 1st, 2009 (new ed.)
Grade rating: A-
Hannah Rose Brown is twelve years old when she finds out that her family is cursed. Desperate to find the truth about her father's disappearance, she travels to her ancestral home in Scotland, and discover a chain of dark secrets that plunge her into different worlds, timeframes and dangers...
The best thing about blogging is having the opportunity to find and read new books I otherwise wouldn't have known about. That's exactly what happened with The Puzzle Ring, and I'm so glad Kate asked me to be part of her blog tour. I can't believe this book has been out there for so long, and I'd never even heard of it! It's a magical fantasy that travels through time, and is exactly the kind of story I love to lose myself in.
I loved all the mythology and history included in Hannah's adventure, especially when it concerned Mary, Queen of Scots. To mix the Queen's life with Scottish faerie lore was just brilliant, and it made for an edge-of-your-seat read. I'm a fan of time travel anyway, though I had no idea it was part of The Puzzle Ring. I also didn't realise it was a book about fairies and magic, so I had a great surprise when I finally cottoned on.
Kate Forsyth's characters are well-rounded and easy to like, and each has little quirks that set them apart from one other. Linnet is my favourite, but to say why would give more away than I should, so I'll just say that she's a charming old lady with a lot of useful knowledge. Hannah herself is also a fantastic character, with more intelligence and quick-thinking than I'm sure I had when I was thirteen. Of course, I was never pitted against the fair folk, so I've never needed to speak in rhyme or decode cryptic clues. It's just as well really, as I don't think I would have been half as good as Hannah!
The Puzzle Ring takes you on a journey from Australia to modern day Scotland, and all the way back to 1567. It's an exciting story of magic and danger, and I loved every minute of it. Fans of Michelle Harrison's 13 Treasures will find this a must-read, as it's full of mystical creatures, family curses and lavish landscapes. What more could you want?
Guest blog: Kate Forsyth on her Family History
Guest blog: Kate Forsyth on her Family History
My latest novel is a children's fantasy novel about a 13-year old Australian girl, Hannah, who finds herself heir to a mysterious old house on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland. She and her mother Roz travel to Scotland to meet her great-grandmother, who tells her about an ancient curse that was cast against Hannah's family many hundreds of years ago. Being an enterprising girl, Hannah decides she must break the curse. But to do so, she first must unravel the puzzle of her lost father's cryptic notebooks, learn to use a magical hag-stone spat at her feet by a toad, and find some way to travel back four hundred and forty years to the time of Mary, Queen of Scots .
Now, I'm an Australian myself. I was born in Sydney and have lived here all of my life. Not only was I born in Australia, but so were my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents as well. So what inspired me to set my novel in Scotland?
The truth is I was brought up on stories about Scotland. My grandmother Nonnie used to tell me and my sister all the stories that had been told to her by her grandmother, who had been born in Scotland. We learnt more about Robert the Bruce, and Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie than we ever did about our own Australian history. Nonnie and her two elder sisters, my great-aunts, were wonderful storytellers and they had houses filled with books and photographs and mementoes of Scotland. The Puzzle Ring is actually dedicated to my grandmother and great-aunts because they were the ones who first told me the story about Mary, Queen of Scots and the bloodstain on the floor of her bedchamber that no amount of scrubbing can remove .
To hear about the bloodstain you'll have to read The Puzzle Ring, because the story I want to tell today is the romantic and tragic tale of my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Mackenzie, who was born in Scotland but died in Australia (but not before bequeathing her treasure trove of stories to her children, who then passed them down through the generations to me).
This is the story Nonnie always used to tell us:
Ellen Mackenzie and her younger sister Jane lived on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland with their parents, and a bonny life they had of it too. They lived in a beautiful castle and had everything two little girls could ever want until, one day, their father was drowned in a shipwreck. Their mother was so heartbroken that she quickly died too, and those poor little girls were left all alone. Their father's brother came and took over the castle and all the lands and all the money, and instead of looking after those two little orphans, he packed them up and sent them all by themselves, far away across the seas, to Australia. In those days it was a wild and dangerous land, and it took months and months in a big ship to get there, and surely those two girls would have been scared of the sea, since it took their father away from them? Many people died on the ship, and Ellen's little sister Jane was almost one of them, but at last they arrived here in Sydney. The governor took pity on them and took them under his wing, and eventually they grew up and got married and had children of their own, one of which was my mother and your great-grandmother. But neither Ellen or Jane was ever able to go back to Scotland again, and no-one knows what happened to the castle...
We were so fascinated by this story that both my sister and I begged to hear it every time we stayed with Nonnie or our great-aunts. My favourite daydream, when I was 10 or 11, was that one day we would receive a letter telling us that the wicked uncle had been found out and that the castle was to return to Ellen's descendants (us) and we would go and live in a castle on the shores of a loch in the wild Scottish Highlands .
In fact, one of my very first books, written when I was 11, tells the story of Fiona MacGregor who finds herself heir to a Scottish castle but must find the lost Killarney treasure if she is to save her home. It was called 'Far, Far Away', and The Puzzle Ring opens with the arrival of a mysterious letter, just like I used to imagine could happen to me.
Of course, we realise now as adults that our great-great-grandmother probably could not have inherited anyway, given Scottish inheritance laws, and that in all probability it was a rather nice house, not a castle. But it was one of the enduring myths of our childhood and it instilled in me a deep and abiding love for Scottish history, fairy tales and landscapes. When I travelled to Scotland to research the book, it was a dream come true for me - I had always longed to go and had never had the chance. What is interesting is that I felt at once as though I was coming home. Everything seemed familiar to me, and I was able to tell my children all the stories I had been told as a child, and heard my own voice slipping into the slight Scottish brogue that my grandmother used whenever she told a story.
My grandmother, Nonnie, looked after my sister and me a lot when we were growing up as my mother had to work. And we spent many of our school holidays with her two elder sisters, my great-aunts.
Then, of course, there was the story of my grandmother's grandmother, Ellen Mackenzie, just as romantic and tragic as any my grandmother told me. Orphaned when only a girl, she and her sister Jane were sent to Australia in 1858 by her uncle, who took control of the family estate.
My sister and I always thought this was most unfair, and used to dream about going back to Scotland and winning back Ellen's home as our own. In our imagination Ellen and Jane were wronged, the uncle was cruel, and her home was a beautiful old castle, on the shores of a loch, with all sorts of romantic secrets waiting to be discovered. We hoped that one day a mysterious letter would arrive, summoning us back to Scotland and our lost inheritance...
For more info, visit: Kate Forsyth.com.au