There is nothing new about the presence of magic in children's stories. For the reader, the magical state promises unreality, escape and adventure. To the writer, a drop of magic is the freedom to unleash the imagination. These novels all have key characters whose life skills go beyond the ordinary.
It is Old Magic that Marianne Curley seeks to harness in her first novel for Bloomsbury, the charming story of two Australian teenagers united by their unusual powers. When unlucky Jarrod Thornton arrives at Ashpeak school, he immediately makes an impression, unwittingly starting a storm in a science class and later instigating an earthquake. Kate, a girl firmly on the fringes of the cool set at school, identifies this wild power in a sceptical Jarrod and vows to help him harness it.
Through a series of inventively plotted twists, and assisted by Kate's strangely convincing hippie grandmother, Jillian, they eventually arrive in 13th-century Britain, where it seems Jarrod's malevolent ancestor Rhauk has placed a curse on the Thorntyne family that is still working its evil magic in the 21st century. To overturn the curse, they must destroy the magician who devised it.
Curley writes her real world and her fantasy world equally convincingly, and conveys an understanding of what it is to be an adolescent and an outsider. Kate and Jarrod are wholly rendered characters, and Curley is particularly clever when dealing with the embryonic sexual relationship between the two.
Nor does she shy away from embracing some of the topics modern teeagers are familiar with - depression, love, suicide, family - all placed firmly within context and very carefully handled.
Clearly, Bloomsbury has high hopes for this writer and these hopes are well founded. Old Magic is a confident debut that announces the arrival of a bright, lively new voice.
Nicola Davies's Tangled Webs has less to offer. At the heart of this novel is Eleri and the dubious telepathic gifts she seems to have inherited from her grandfather. Enter the sinister Foundation, which wants to harness Eleri's gifts, but which is not likely to seem remotely frightening to readers familiar with, for example, The X-Files.
Eleri is an endearingly stroppy and suspicious teenager, but the writing is so flat, the plotting so free of surprises and the pace so pedestrian that one wonders whether Eleri herself would have been compelled to read beyond the first few pages.
Telepathy plays a more potent role in Terrance Dicks's Cassie and The Devil's Charm in the Second Sight series. Narrator Ben, a slightly irritating posh kid, meets new girl Cassie at school and discovers she has some kind of psychic power. He finds her intriguing and attractive, and is soon drawn into an adventure that centres on Cassie's workaholic mother and her business dealings with the Russian gangster Lukas.
Cassie deems Lukas "evil" and she and Ben set out to uncover his intentions, using the occasional psychic trick along the way.
Certainly Dicks's fictional world is more convincing than Davies's, and his story moves with considerably more pace, but again, what is lacking here is any sense of a story being taken beyond the boundaries of safety and predictability. Perhaps an extra sprinkling of magic would have helped.