Think of Tree Magic as a tree. A great big oak, or a fir, or the beech at the end of your garden that gave you the scar on your knee. Look at its leaves and branches, and you will find a story about a young girl, Rainbow, who discovers she can communicate with trees. Dig deeper and you’ll find the roots of the story. For Harriet Springbett’s first novel is about more than a girl with magic powers. It is about a young girl struggling to reinvent herself. It follows Rainbow’s journey between England and France, her dramatic changes in appearances, her attempt to piece together a broken family, and all the people she meets along the way.
I am not one for fantasy novels. So, when I read the blurb for this book, I was initially sceptical about the prospect of reading about a girl with magic hands. It reminded me of books I’d read as a child: implausible, impossible. However, Springbett has cleverly blended fantasy with the real world. Every element other than Rainbow’s gift is true to reality: she is a teenager who goes to school, cooks, sketches, and struggles to fit in, just like the rest of us. Although targeted towards teens and young adults, older readers will find pleasure in Springbett’s simple yet delicate prose.
The novel is structured into seven parts, plus a prologue, and tracks Rainbow’s life from the age of thirteen to eighteen. It is a fast-paced story, opening with an accident that becomes the driving force for Rainbow’s life. Not only does the accident encourage her to reinvent herself, but it gives her mother an opportunity to make a confession that impacts the protagonist immensely, but is not revealed until the end of the book. This confession, in fact, creates most of the novel’s suspense. It is what keeps readers turning pages. And leafing through pages is exactly what I did, devouring the book in less than twenty-four hours.
Rainbow’s turbulent and unsteady relationship with her mother is one of the realest parts of the novel. The characters’ problems of communication result from the fact that Rainbow’s mother keeps secrets from her daughter, refusing to tell Rainbow about her father, for instance. Many readers will find the ‘broken-family’ aspect of the story relatable.
‘Trees didn’t have a language barrier, unlike Mum and herself. They had a system much older than language. It was something in their roots: a current that travelled through the earth, rock and water of the planet. And it was something in the air: a current that travelled from leaf to leaf in the breeze. She felt warm generosity flowing from the beech.’
Rainbow’s yearning for a father is introduced early on. Her desperation threads its way through her teenage years, as she searches for father figures in every older man she meets. When Rainbow’s mother takes her away to France, Rainbow is introduced to Domi, a man with a similar spiritual gift to her own. Rainbow convinces herself that Domi is her father. Although I sympathised with the protagonist’s want for a complete family, there were times when her hopeless thoughts became repetitive. I wanted to snap her out of her misery. Luckily, Rainbow remains likeable throughout, and these moments did not discourage me from wanting to find out what happened to her.
Springbett introduces quite a large cast of characters. From Michael, Rainbow’s neighbour and the first man she reveals her powers to, to Trish, a childhood friend whose struggles mirror Rainbow’s, to Christophe, a French boy she initially resents but grows fond of. Most of the characters are recurring and believable but some, like Jeb, a school friend who features in a couple of chapters, feel underdeveloped. There were times when a vaguely familiar name was mentioned and I had to flip back a few pages to remember who the character was.
It is perhaps these few flat characters that make Rainbow all the more round. She is the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of the novel. Her story is about more than communicating with trees. It is about finding a purpose for this unique gift. All Rainbow wants is to feel like she matters – to the world, to others and, most importantly, to herself. And isn’t that what we all want?
‘Destiny was supposed to be something great, something to die for. She didn’t just want to carry on as she had done for years. Of course she wanted to help trees. But she’d thought Domi was going to find her something on a heroic scale. She’d thought she was going to save the planet. What was the point of her gift if she couldn’t do anything worthwhile with it?’
Tree Magic is a beautiful and universal tale of loss, love and learning to find a place in a world without roots.
Harriet Springbett lives in the Poitou-Charentes region of France with her French partner and their teenage daughters.
Her first literary success was winning an honours award at the Highbridge Festival of the Arts at 10 years old with an essay about spring. Since then, her short stories and poetry have been published in literary journals and placed in several writing competitions.
She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.
Tree Magic is her first novel and she is now working on her third. She blogs on writing, life in France and French cultural events at https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com
Tree Magic was published by Impress Books on 1st March 2017.
To discover more about Impress Books click here…
Review by Alice Kouzmenko
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.
You can read Alice’s previously published short stories below:
For more book reviews click here…