Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi
The Magic Mirror books have been co-authored by Nury Vittachi. That was reason enough for me to order these books, having read his delightful book The Day it Rained Letters a couple of years ago. The Magic Mirror series is a set of five books based on Asian history; books 3 and 4 are set in ancient China.
Around the time Emperor Ashoka had forty-feet high pillars carved with his inscriptions and erected across his empire, far away in China, there was another Emperor having a mountain made and a city built that he would fill with life-size terracotta soldiers. In The Tomb of Time, we join Marko and Miranda Lee as they travel to ancient China with the magic mirror and land in the Necropolis - the City of the Dead.
Right from page one, it is evident that something is brewing. Mira and Marko are at home by themselves – their parents are away. Their grandfather, a historian, has disappeared. All they have is a cryptic clue from him and instructions to get to 210, the Necropolis and bring back a wooden box. The siblings crack the puzzle and with the help of the magic mirror, head to the mysterious destination.
They find themselves in 210 BC. Around them are men hard at work, building the Necropolis. The clay people are being carved – there are separate departments for making the limbs, torsos and faces. Within each group, there are further specializations – standing legs, sitting legs, kneeling legs! While the people are not real, the weapons are razor-sharp.
Mira and Marko meet chariot-makers, architects and craftsmen in the ancient city. Emperor Qin Shi Huang is feared by everyone. He had started off as a noble king, unifying the lands and people. Soon, he has all the rules rewritten to suit himself – the rules of physics, the law books. After his encounter with a thousand-year-old magician, Emperor Qin is obsessed with gaining immortality. In his quest for the elixir of life he has hundreds of alchemists eliminated. The emperor banishes his older son, the wise and kind Fusu, and makes his younger son the heir. He has a death paper issued to Prince Fusu commanding him to kill himself.
The writing is excellent, especially the dialogue. The tension keeps building up; there is no slackening in the pace. The kids are eventually caught and trapped underground, their magic mirror confiscated. Will they retrieve the wooden box and accomplish the mission? Will they escape the crossbow-wielding ghosts? How will they get out without the magic mirror?
A riveting story and the author’s note says it is all based on fact, even the minutest details. Such a fun way to learn about the past.
The Wall of Willows (Magic Mirror series: Book 4)
Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi
The Wall of Willows begins where Book 3 left off: Pushed to a corner by the emperor, the alchemists make him a potion of mercury. Having ingested it over a prolonged period, Emperor Qin's time is almost up. On his death bed, the emperor decides to revoke the death paper issued to Prince Fusu and reinstate him as heir.
Meanwhile, at Marko and Mira’s school, an inspector has arrived to investigate. The school has performed remarkably well in the exams, arousing suspicions about malpractice. The teachers explain the improvement – a couple of students had been playing a time travel "game” and received “practical lessons” in Asian history from their historian grandfather. The kids had shared their stories with friends and now everyone was infected. The teachers too had woven the theme into art, English and mathematics. Naturally, the results were outstanding.
Marko and Miro are soon off on another adventure. This time their grandfather has entrusted them with the task of delivering the Emperor's letter cancelling the death paper. The kids set off in search of Fusu who is watching over the frontier while the Great Wall is being built. They reach the Great Wall in 210 BC, when it is just earth and stones. We read about the legend of the Lady of the Wall, Meng Jiang Nu. The kids meet the lady herself and listen to her tell the story of the construction of the wall. Meng Jiang Nu joins the kids as they flee from evil Chancellor Zhao. Read the book to find out how they escape from his clutches and how the kids turn their latest adventure into a history lesson.
Book 5, The Shining Scripture, is set in the year 602. Off to read it now.
[Image source scholastic.co.in]