Tempest lives with her two fathers who are ferrymen on the river and who saved her from drowning as a small child. They live in an alternative version of our world, where the year is 1726 and there is still magic to be found if you look. When the evil Royal Sorcerer of England persuades Tempest to take him across the river during a storm, she unleashes a magic that she did not know she had. The Sorcerer is searching for a wild boy reputed to live in the woods and who may be full of magic; when he is captured, the boy,Thomas, and Tempest build a friendship and discover that they are actually brother and sister. Not only that, they are the lost children of the Queen of Fairyland. How they are taken to Kensington Palace and manage to escape and then try and break a curse that they have discovered will kill one of them, makes for an exciting and quite chilling story.
There are elements of this story that seem to hark back to the world created by Joan Aiken, although we do have the Hanoverian king George on the throne, rather than James III. This mixture of history and magic helps add to the sense of reality, even when we ‘know’ that fairyland cannot exist. This is very much a story of relationships, from the stifling interactions of the human royal family and the court to the fairy court and the fairy queen and her sister. The similarities are quite stark as neither group appears to have any sense of humanity and empathy. Thomas and Tempest are seen as pawns to be manipulated to meet the needs of those in authority. The only people who show any feelings for the children are the two ferrymen, which brings into contrast the attitudes of the rich and privileged compared to the common working population. Peter Bunzl has gained a well-deserved reputation as an author who can construct worlds that we believe in and he has certainly fulfilled this aim with Magicborn. It definitely deserves its five-star rating.