Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson

Publisher: Starscape
Publication date: July 1st 2014
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780765332110


Debut author Julia Mary Gibson explores turn-of-the-century Native American culture, ecology, and conservation, in her historical fiction novel, Copper Magic.
The year is 1906, and on the shores of Lake Michigan twelve-year-old Violet Blake unearths an ancient talisman—a copper hand. Violet’s touch warms the copper hand and it begins to reveal glimpses of another time. Violet is certain that the copper hand is magic—and if anyone is in need of its powers, it’s Violet. Her mother and adored baby brother are gone, perhaps never to return. Her heartbroken father can’t seem to sustain the failing farm on the outskirts of Pigeon Harbor, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Surely the magic of the copper hand can make things right for Violet and restore her fractured family. Violet makes a wish. But her ignorant carelessness unleashes formidable powers—and her attempts to control them jeopardizes not only herself, but the entire town of Pigeon Harbor.
In Copper Magic, land and waters are alive with memories, intentions, and impulses. Magic alters Violet and brings her gifts—but not always the kind she thinks she needs. First-time author Julia Mary Gibson brings Violet and her community to life in this impressive and assured debut.


I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

When young Violet finds a copper hand buried in the sand, she knows to be before something powerful, something magical. Wielding magic can only mean one thing: she will get what she wants: her mother and brother back, her father's trees to grow just fine, some money in her pocket, and that pretty dress she's been enamoured with. All she has to do is treat the Hand as it should, show it how nice a girl she is and it will reward her. Indeed she gets the dress and a job as an assistant to a photographer from the big city. She even gets herself a proper friend! But Violet is only a child who was never taught how to treat magical items, and the Hand and its magic are as old as the land she lives on. When Violet makes a mistake, the repercussions are beyond anything she could have imagined.

Copper Magic is a sweet tale of loss and longing, punctuated by moments of hope and something akin to happiness. It's also a book where it's hard to pinpoint the genre it belongs to. Historical due to its setting in early 20th century America? Fantasy or magical realism thanks to the copper hand's magic? Or perhaps just drama as a result of all the family problems Violet is part of? Regardless of genre, one thing is certain, it is a very good book.

The language, for one, is not only evocative of the time and setting, but also beautifully crafted. The descriptions, never too long or too short, make it easy to step into the setting of the story, both in the sense of being lost in it and in visualising it. 

Another aspect that helps to pull one in is the diversity this book has of peoples, beliefs, skin colours, religions, jobs, and aspirations, without letting one of this traits define the character in question. They may help mould them, as does the setting, but everyone is more than the sum of their parts. The quantity of covered issues too (ecology, racism, religion to name only a few) is enormous, which may feel overwhelming at first. However, it is true that the "real world" is not concerned with one single topic, but with a myriad of them. Why should a book be any different?

The plot itself is fairly simple and straightforward, as it should be when told through the eyes of a child. In its simplicity, Gibson keeps an air of charm, wonder, and mystery that make turning the page inevitable. After all, just like Violet, we want to find out what the copper hand is all about, if the events that unfold are magical or mere wishful thinking, the mysteries of the waters, and most of all why her mother disappeared and left her behind. Not all questions are answered, and not all is put back in place. Yet the conclusion, just as the rest of the book feels right. Nothing else could have worked better.

This may not be your common fantasy book (if it is fantasy), but it is most certainly one to peruse. Copper Magic is a brilliant debut, and I cannot wait to see what else Gibson has up her sleeve.

The book in a quote

"Magic was full of brambles and shadows.  It could help you keep to the path or it could make you lost.  It could let you find berries or it could let you starve.  It could eat you or seize your mind or break your bones or shelter you. The worst thing was to be afraid of it . Once you let fear take hold, fear would be the conqueror."