Brian Caswell: Merryll and Butterflies
I don’t know how, but I had forgotten about Brian Caswell until my sister linked My Sister Sif with Merryll of the Stones, and I realised that NO nostalgic trip to early adolescence would be complete, for me, without him.
Merryll of the Stones has time travel, romance, dragons and other mythical creatures, and Wales. Also tragedy, but romance. Old book, and romance… yeh yeh ok, I actually am a total sap. Have we not realised that yet? Whatever.
Megan’s parents are killed in a car crash; she wakes up from a coma speaking Welsh, and conveniently having to go live with relatives in Wales. She meets unpleasant school girls, a mostly sympathetic but vague set of relatives, and the odd and intense Em. She then goes back in time to a period when Wales was being all mythological and warlike, and… there’s a prophecy, and mistaken identity, and struggling to find your way physically and mentally and emotionally, and it is JUST ALL AWESOME. Megan, so far as I recall, is an immensely sympathetic and believable character – not perfect, but aiming for the right; her relationships with the girls around her really resonated with me. Plus, yes, the awkwardness of her relationship with Em had a great appeal – dealing with his intensity and oddness, his secrecy and mystery but he’s neither a vampire NOR A STALKER. Just saying. And again plus, a really cool vision of ancient Wales. I’ve always had a thing for Wales and the Celts. This was absolutely one of my go-to books as a young girl. (And I currently can’t find my copy. I think my sister has stolen it.)
Cage of Butterflies is verrrry different in theme, but equally awesome and resonant in tone and characterisation. Super intelligent teens in a ‘think tank’ educational facility discover that just over there, in the bit of the institute they shouldn’t know about, is a bunch of babies with… abilities. Who do not like being kept in the institute and experimented on.
I remember this as being a bit more plot-driven than Merryll; the lead characters, Mikki and the boy whose name I’ve forgotten, have to find out about the Babies and then have to figure out what to do with/for them and then deal with some consequences (it has a bit of ‘much later…’ as the conclusion). And I definitely remember that as being exciting and tense the first time I read it. However, as with Merryll, the real draw is the characters themselves. Perhaps this won’t surprise anyone, but I was absolutely a square at school, and the idea of a place filled with really smart kids hanging out together and, while not necessarily just sitting around talking about books all day – there are still fights and awkwardness and general teen-type things – there’s no condemnation for being smart. That was a pretty exciting thing to read about. I liked the alternating point of view – girl and boy, who by the way rather like each other, ooh er, as well as working really, really well together and complimenting each other beautifully physically (the boy has, IIRC, something wrong with his legs…) and mentally (different strengths – and genuinely different, not better/gender based. Again, IIRC… maybe I’ve got rosy glasses towards this). It was a delight in general, is what I’m getting at.
Brian Caswell, I owe you a great debt for adding lovely gentle readable and believable romance and characters and story to my life.