The Apprentices

The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones

Being a permanent part of the King’s Royal Procession isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, particularly when the realm’s magic depends on him tromping up and down the countryside to keep the Isle of the Blest blessed.

Grundo and Roddy (Arianrhod) spend most of their lives on the Children’s Bus. They’ve got important parents, after all, who can’t be separated from the procession. Roddy’s dad is a sweetheart of a guy who also happens to be an ace weather wizard. Grundo isn’t so lucky. His mum, Sybil, is one of the most powerful earth mages in the kingdom and has a grasping, wormy personality. She’s nasty to her only boy, and it’s not too surprising his dad took off and left her before Grundo was born.

Roddy feels strongly that it’s her duty to protect Grundo from his mother and obnoxious sister, so when she’s offered a chance for them both to go to visit her mysterious grandfather, she is happy to accept, never mind that his own daughter seems to be terrified of him. Before the leave-taking, however, both Roddy and Grundo overhear a plot to overthrow the king. They realize that everyone in the Procession has been enchanted to do exactly as they are bid by Grundo’s mum, her paramour, and the new archmage, whose hereditary title is Merlin.

Almost forgotten magicks lurk in the Welsh countryside near her grandfather’s home, merely waiting for a person who has the mind and nascent ability to take them on. Wielding the ancient knowledge gives Roddy a chance to call on other forces for help. As she stands in the mist near the ruined village, her curling black hair blowing in the breezy dusk, she calls forth a wizard of power to help her save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, in another world closer to our own, Nick has agreed, albeit with rolling eyes, to accompany his dad to a mystery writers’ conference. It’s dead-on dull until a man in the crowd bumps into him. With a matter-of-fact “Off you go, then,” Nick finds himself on an airfield in the chilly early morning.

It’s a scenario likely to cause confusion, but Nick takes it in stride. It’s not his first time out-of-the-world. In fact, modern-day Earth isn’t his own world. Stranded by his parents in a truly mundane place, Nick is cautiously thrilled to join a bunch of young sorcerers who are responsible for the Crown Prince’s security detail.

Nick doesn’t know spit about spells, but later on, when a pretty young girl with curling coal black hair tells him that she needs his magical assistance to save her kingdom, he’s more than willing to try, even if his talents seem mainly to consist of making a blue flame appear and speaking to giggling elephants. Roddy might be less than impressed, but she’s a bit new to all this magic stuff, too, and any help is better than none.

It’s a race against time, for there’s a vast change about to take place throughout all the worlds. Ronnie, Nick, and Grundo will find themselves in the center of it—which is to be expected as they are the ones who will call forth the old Powers to rend the fabric of existence.

Midnight Magic by Avi

Cover to Midnight MagicThe old man had sworn he wasn’t a magician. Despite the torture and the trials, the venerable Mangus refused to admit that he trafficked in the black arts. And, indeed, as far as his servant Fabrizio knew, Mangus dealt with illusions only, rather like making coins vanish and reappear but with more impressive results.

After the trial, Mangus was put under house arrest. In creeping poverty, he and his wife barely lived. All their money was gone, and the servants had fled trouble, one and all except Fabrizio.

On a dark night shot through with lightning and rain, Fabrizio sat in his room, amusing himself with a deck of cards. They were Mangus’ of course, but he had no further use for them. Still and all, Fabrizio felt a little guilty as he took them out. He hadn’t asked; he had merely filched the tarot deck.

The first card was THE MAGICIAN
Well, who could that be but Magnus?

The next card: THE SERVANT
Very good. Fabrizio himself!

And then the spread of six cards:

THE CASTELLO THE KING THE GHOST
THE PRINCESS THE TUTOR THE KING

All of them were elements of something. But of what? As Fabrizio laid out the final card he prayed to see the Riches card.

As he drew the last card, a crash of lightning shook the house, and there was a tremendous pounding on the front door. Visitors. Important ones, surely, who were not accustomed to waiting.

He gasped as he saw the last card, which was DEATH.