Review: Ruby Coral Carnelian by Mary Borsellino (AWW Challenge #8)

rccYou may have read on this blog before how very much I love the work of Mary Borsellino. Well, here’s some more of that love heading your way.

Borsellino’s latest is a shortish YA fantasy called Ruby Coral Carnelian. The title is a reference to this world’s wizards, the kind of magic they use and their willingness (and success) in using blood magic.

The story sees Del, assistant to the Ruby Warlock, discovering the wizard intends to sell him on to another wizard and realizing that this isn’t going to end well. As Del plans to run, he discovers that one of the Ruby Warlock’s twin step-children, away at boarding school, is in trouble and that the other plans to rescue him. Del ends up helping, and he, Nicholas and Kelsie end up on the run, escaping from powerful people who mean them harm.

So far, so straightforward, and it gets difficult to provide details without also providing spoilers. As always with Borsellino’s work, there is more going on than a simple plot explanation can reveal. The characters are flawed yet sympathetic, the story taking some unexpected turns as they learn about themselves and each other.

Ruby Coral Carnelian initially reminded me of my old favourite Diana Wynne Jones. Like many of Jones’s books, here’s a tale that partly explores what happens when kids learn that the adults in their life aren’t necessarily dependable, and are possibly even dangerous, and must fend for themselves and grow up at the same time.

Adding texture to this are themes relating to gender identity, concepts of privilege, the assumptions we make, and even notions of disability and wholeness.

In trying to capture the flavour of this book, I told a friend ‘imagine Diana Wynne Jones pencilled the art, but then it was inked by a Vertigo artist’.

So that’s sort of it. The core of a story that feels as traditional and as sound as a book by the late great Jones, but with its own freshness (and darkness) that explores new territory and reaches different conclusions.

There are many reasons why I think Mary Borsellino is one of the great underappreciated genre writers this country has to offer. The way she combines horror and compassion. Her capacity to create detailed, believable worlds full of cruelty and beauty. Her splendid characterisation. Her queer sensibilities and sure sense of creating people with real flaws and imperfections that are somehow both very real and simply perfect.

Frankly, I know the hyperbole is a lot for a writer to live up to, but also frankly, I have never yet been disappointed by one of her books. I struggle more to tame my praise than to find enough adjectives to add.

If you’re not sure you want to tackle Borsellino’s longer works like The Wolf House or The Devil’s Mixtape, give Ruby Coral Carnelian a try to see if what makes me pretty much get a literary boner speaks to you too.

Read my reviews of The Wolf House and the Devil’s Mixtape

Read my review of Mary Borsellino’s latest erotica story, A Brighter Spark.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.