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Cameron Dokey - Sunlight and Shadow: A Retelling of "The Magic Flute"

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Dokey's Sunlight and Shadow: does an operatic classic no favours.

Aug 12, 2008 (Updated Aug 12, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Has a very intriguing start.

Cons:Falls apart early on, and very little resemblence to the opera by Mozart.

The Bottom Line: A truly bad novel. Utterly trashes the opera, and never gets above stereotypes.


When I first heard about this young adult novel, my interest was immediately caught. The Magic Flute or to give it the proper name, Die Zauberflote, was one of the first operas that I came to know and truly enjoy -- the premise is the rescue mission of a young princess, a test for a young prince and his companion, and terrific music as well.

As part of the ongoing series, Once Upon a Time... author Cameron Dokey gives her own spin on the story. She's changed quite a few of the names and elements, adding some, and throwing out others, to mixed effect. Sunlight and Shadow starts with a backstory of the marriage of Pamina's parents, as told through Pamina's eyes.

Pamina has a very lonely life, with only her mother, the Queen of the Night, and the servants for company. They live together on the side of a mountain, the greatest mountain in the world, and watch the west. Their routine is set by the setting of the sun every day, and the glories of the evening sky. Pamina -- who thinks of herself as Mina -- has learned not to trust her father very much, knowing that one day she is to go and live with him on her sixteenth birthday, and that he will one day chose a husband for her, a situation that she dreads. All she can remember of him is that he left her mother and herself years ago, to live on his side of the mountain, the one facing east and the rising sun.

To say the least, Pamina dreads that day, and as it nears, she and her mother ask for a meeting with her father, treachery occurs, and Pamina is forcibly seperated from her mother, and taken to Sarastro's side of the mountain. The Queen then brings in other players into the story, to rescue her daughter.

The first of them, Lapin, we meet fairly early on in the book. A set of magical bells have been passed down from his grandmother and mother to him, with the ability to summons one's own perfect mate, and it is Lapin who has the most magical power of them all -- he can summon birds. When he meets the Queen, with her infant daughter Pamina, it turns out that his music is the only thing that can pacify a restless baby. And so he ends up as part of her household, and Pamina's only friend from the outside world. When Pamina is kidnapped, the Queen asks Lapin to summon Pamina's one true match with the bells.

A suitable young prince appears, bearing a flute, and so the story unfolds through the traditional quest and requisite happy ending. All of this is accomplished in less than two hundred pages, and with multiple points of view -- all told in first person, no less -- this was a novel that was downright painful to read.

There are glimpses of the original opera by Mozart, but the author here has not only taken the liberty of changing names, -- Paganeno is Lapin, Paganena is Gayna, Tamino is Tern -- most of the original humour and message has been stripped away. Sarastro is no longer a benevolent but stern priest of the Sun, but a bad tempered, controlling patriarch of the most vile sort, Lapin is turned into a mere accessory and looses his vital part in the final quest, we don't get to see the Three Ladies, the Three Spirits or the Dragon, and in sort, what was left behind was a mere whisp of the original story.

The worst thing about this was the constant use of 'I' narration throughout -- as the point of view of the story changes, the author has each one tells it in first person. Sadly, she also neglects to give any hints as to who in this overblown tale is speaking, creating a great deal of confusion for the reader.

Fortunately, this is a brief novel, and easily reads within an hour or two. Geared for a young adult audience, I can happily say, don't bother. The various players are all pretty much stock characters, and there is very little of the original's magic or delight. Everything is taken very seriously and it just doesn't work.

Two stars for this joyless tripe. Not recommended.

Novels in the Once Upon a Time... Series:

The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn
Beyond Midnight by Cameron Dokey
Golden by Cameron Dokey (review by Shimmertje)
The Rose Bride by Nancy Holder
Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey -- you are here
The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn

Sunlight and Shadow: a retelling of "The Magic Flute"
Cameron Dokey
2004; Simon Pulse, Simon and Schuster Books
ISBN 1-4169-6076-7


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