Summary: When Sycorax discovers at an early age that she is a magical prodigy, she uses her powers to protect her father’s kingdom as she grows. Soon though she begins to crave more power, but a miscalculation in her plans leaves her stranded on a magical island about to give birth. Sycorax extracts the magic from the island for herself, but ends up leaving her son Caliban all alone after harnessing the power eventually kills her. Caliban lives by himself on the mysterious island until one day Prospero and his daughter Miranda arrive, and getting to know them will affect the rest of his life.
Number of Pages: 264
Age Range: 15-17
Review: You have to be a sharp reader to keep up with Rough Magic. This was my second time reading it and I still had to restart it twice so I could figure out exactly what was going on.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caryl Cude Mullin expands on the play by giving more background on Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, and continuing the story after Prospero, Miranda and Caliban leave the island. It was a lot to fit in, and the timeline had to jump ahead on several occasions to accommodate everything. At times I had trouble adjusting to the leaps in plot development.
In an odd way though, having the story expanded a little by Mullin’s work made me want even more. This is a multi-generational book, and while it focuses on the characters who have direct contact with Caliban, I wanted to know more about Sycorax’s daughter, especially when Calypso, Sycorax’s granddaughter, shows up with an interesting background story of her own.
I still don’t think I’m clear on why Sycorax left her father’s kingdom in the first place. Were the visions she had of the future so disturbing that she didn’t want to be around when they came true? How did she know if the future she was seeing involved her staying or leaving?
Even though I did have trouble with the specifics, I was engaged by the characters and intrigued by the idea of an author adding to another’s work, especially one as famous as Shakespeare. It’s a gutsy choice, and I generally liked what Mullin added.
Without The Tempest background though, Rough Magic is a pretty fantastical book that moves at a quick pace with lots of action. It’s not what I would call a reluctant read, but may help make Shakepeare’s tale more accessible to high school readers.
“In seeking to win her freedom, she had built herself a cage.
Disappointed and thwarted hopes made a bitter brew to swallow, and she had to drink it every day. It made her savage and cruel. She could not tame herself; she did not remember how to feel mercy.” from Rough Magic by Caryl Cude Mullin, page 51
“‘Are you frightened of it, Caliban?’ she asked quietly, staring at the land ahead. ‘I am,’ she added, putting him at ease.
‘Yes,’ he replied, simply. He was not ashamed of fear, not like the men of the ship. They ridiculed fear in themselves and others. They were afraid of being afraid, Caliban thought, and the silliness of that thought made him smile.” – conversation between Miranda and Caliban from Rough Magic by Caryl Cude Mullin, page 80
“And Leviathan circled the world, his tail caught between his jaws.
‘What does it mean?’ wondered Chiara.
All journeys lead back to their beginning, the heavens hummed.
‘What’s the sense of that?’ Chiara said. ‘If you just end up where you started then nothing changes.’
You change. And that changes everything.” – conversation between Chiara and the heavens from Rough Magic by Caryl Cude Mullin, page 175