THE PUZZLE RING by Kate Forsyth - Review & Author Interview

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Hannah Rose Brown was not quite thirteen years old when she discovered her family was cursed...
It seemed a day like any other day. Yet for twelve year old Hannah Rose Brown, it is the day when her ordinary life is changed forever, a day when she discovers a past full of secrets and a future full of magic.

Hannah lives with her mother, Roz. Her father Robert disappeared soon after she was born, and she and her mother are all alone in the world. Or so Hannah has always believed. Yet one day a letter arrives, addressed to the Viscountess of Fairknowe. Hannah thinks it's a hilarious mistake but the letter upsets her mother who confesses that Hannah’s father was the Viscount of Fairknowe, and the heir to Wintersloe Castle in Scotland.

The letter is from Hannah’s great-grandmother – someone she never knew existed – begging Hannah and her mother to come to Scotland. At first Roz refuses – she had sworn never to return to Wintersloe Castle. But Hannah is determined to go, her curiosity aroused by the letter’s reference to a curse.

Wintersloe Castle is an old house, built near the ruins of a castle and overlooking the waters of Loch Lomond. On the northern wall is a strange gate, built through the hollow trunk of an ancient yew tree. Through the gate, Hannah can see the round hill that rises behind the house, crowned with a blackthorn tree. This is called Fairknowe on the maps, but the locals call it the fairy hill.

Strange things begin to happen. A toad coughs up a round stone with a hole worn through the middle. When Hannah looks through it, the world seems different. She hears a dog howling at night – yet there is no dog at Wintersloe Castle. Shadows seem to stalk her. One stormy day, the toad shows her the way to her father’s old tower room – and Hannah discovers the history of the curse of Wintersloe Castle, which has blighted the family and the house for centuries.

Hannah is determined to break the curse, but to do so she must go back in time to the last tumultuous days of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. She must face all sorts of dangers, including being hunted by the evil queen of the Otherworld and being accused of being a witch...

The Puzzle Ring is a fantastically imaginative fantasy novel that I'd recommend to readers between nine and twelve, as well as older readers who don't mind reading books with younger protagonists. I think if I were five or six years younger, this is the kind of book I'd've read over and over again - I'm giving it to my little sister to read, and I'm sure she'll love it.

It's fantastically gripping, and has elements of action and historical fiction. There was a lot going on in The Puzzle Ring - time travel, a curse, magic - but everything was tied together beautifully. At times Hannah was somewhat annoying, but she also had a great attitude and was easy to relate to (and pretty much all the young girls I know have a fantasy of living in their own castle. And grown-ups as well).
I highly recommend The Puzzle Ring for the 9-to-12 crowd, and all lovers of middle grade fantasy, historical fiction and folklore. A truly wonderful read.

Buy The Puzzle Ring on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Author Interview: Kate Forsyth

Steph: Can you tell me a bit about writing THE PUZZLE RING? Was there a specific inspiration behind it?
Kate: When I first read about puzzle rings and their fascinating history I thought at once what a wonderful idea it would make for a quest story. Basically a puzzle ring is a clever invention first made many hundreds of years ago by an Arabian king who was jealous of his young and beautiful wife. On the finger, the ring looks like a band of twisted gold but once you drawn the ring off the finger it falls apart into a number of separate loops, and it is impossible to put back on again unless you know the secret code to the puzzle. As soon as I read the story I thought ‘ah-ha! A search for a broken puzzle ring. What a great idea.’ I’ve always loved puzzles and secret codes and hidden treasures, and so I knew it was the type of story I’d love to write. For a long time it sat in my ideas book, and occasionally I’d ponder WHO would want to find it, and WHY, and WHERE and WHEN I’d set my story ... but I was busy with other books and didn’t try & answer those questions. Until one day, in a cobwebby second-hand book shop, I found an old book entitled ‘The Book of Curses’ which opened, mysteriously, on the story of an ancient Scottish curse that was actually cast against my own family, the Mackenzies, and my mind began to race. ‘Of course! A girl whose family was cursed ....’ After that the book really wrote itself.

Steph: How do you research your novels? Do you do all the research beforehand, or as you write?

Kate: I do an enormous amount of research for all my books, but luckily I love researching. I get very obsessed with everything to do with the book I’m writing, and its no hardship at all to read many enormous thick heavy books with names like ‘Fire Burn: Tales of Witchery’, ‘Mary Stuart’s Scotland’, ‘Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English’, ‘The Tudor Housewife’, and ‘The New Time Travellers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics’ – these are just some of the books I read while writing ‘The Puzzle Ring’. I read and research a great deal before I even start the novel, and then I continue to research the whole time I’m writing. Some books I will read many times over. I usually begin with a very wide focus; for example, I’ll read a lot about the history of Scotland, and then, when I’ve decided that the action set in the past will take place during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, I’ll read everything I can find about her in particular; and then, when I have narrowed my action down to six months of her life, I’ll read books that deal only with that particular period, for example, ‘Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley.’ I do a lot of research on the internet, and I order a great many books on my subject, some of them enormously old and valuable. I read up on Scottish cooking and then start cooking the recipes. I read that Queen Mary loved cinnamon, which was prohibitively expensive in her day, and I start making hot cinnamon rolls for my children’s afternoon tea. Sometimes I even begin dressing like my characters (in this case, green velvet skirts and berets) and listening to the music they like (my heroine Hannah loves soul music, and so that was all I listened to for almost 18 months!)

Steph: Is there much of you in Hannah, or your other characters?

Kate: I always get asked this question, and I always think, ‘No, they’re their own people’ – but if I was to really think about it, ‘yes, there must be some of me in there.’ Hannah is strong-willed, determined and loves all things magical – that’s very like me. However, she’s red-haired, left-handed and can sing, which is nothing like me! It’s the same with all my characters – we share some characteristics, and others not at all.

Steph: Is anything in your novels inspired by real life experience?

Kate: A writer takes everything they’ve ever read or seen or thought or experienced, and they turn it, by some mysterious alchemical process, into something completely different. For example, I once cursed a girl ...

Steph: You write for both adults and children - is the writing process very different? Is it more difficult to write one more than the other?

Kate: I don’t think one is harder than the other, though sometimes a book for adults is a little longer ... I always know who my story is being written for, and so that determines the shape and structure of the story. It’s an intuitive process as much as anything else. With ‘The Puzzle Ring’ I was writing the sort of story I would’ve loved to have read when I was 11 or 12, so I wanted it to be full of suspense, but I didn’t want anything too shocking or nasty. While writing a novel that I’d enjoy as an adult means you can have longer chapters, with more sophisticated language and structures, and the story can be a little darker, or sexier, or more surprising.

Steph: What advice would you give aspiring authors of children's and YA fiction?

Kate: It’s the same advice I’d give any writer. Take joy in the writing, bring everything you can to the writing process, be patient, take the time to let the story flower properly, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Steph: What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Kate: I’m in the final stages of a YA fantasy novel which will be published in May this year. Called ‘The Wildkin’s Curse, its a tale of true love and high adventure, and is the long-awaited sequel to ‘The Starthorn Tree’.


This post is part of THE PUZZLE RING blog tour! Check out more posts at...

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