Askew, Amanda Jane 1955- (Amanda Hemingway; Jan Siegel, a pseudonym)
ASKEW, Amanda Jane 1955- (Amanda Hemingway; Jan Siegel, a pseudonym)
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Del Rey, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer. Worked variously as an untrained nurse, barmaid, secretary, lab assistant, actress, model, performance poet, and journalist.
AS AMANDA HEMINGWAY
Pzyche, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1982.
Tantalus, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1984.
Baccanal, Hamilton (London, England), 1987.
The Poison Heart, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990, published as The Viper's Heart, Viking (London, England), 1990.
Soulfire, Warner (London, England), 1995.
"FERNANDA CAPEL" SERIES; UNDER PSEUDONYM JAN SIEGEL
Prospero's Children, Voyager (London, England), 1999, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2000.
The Dragon Charmer, Voyager (London, England), 2000, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2001.
The Witch Queen, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to anthologies.
When Amanda Jane Askew first began writing, she used her married name, Amanda Hemingway. Her first novel, Pzyche, was science fiction, and her next four were thrillers. Beginning with the first book of her fantasy trilogy featuring Fernanda Capel, she used a pseudonym, Jan Siegel. Askew has no children herself, but she is godmother to a number of them, including the three children of artist Julian Bell, whose great aunt was Virginia Woolf. On one occasion when she was caring for them, they asked her for a story, and she had to make one up that would involve the three of them. This tale later evolved into Prospero's Children, the first book of Askew's "Capel" trilogy.
In an online interview with Locus, Askew explained that she saw Prospero's Children as a "starting point" and came up with a concept after reading the work of writers including J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Alan Garner. She said she had read all of the children's classics but "what got me about those books is that they always chickened out about what happened when the people grew up. My whole idea, therefore, was to start out a little bit at that level, with my protagonists children or almost children, and then find out what happens if you bring in the whole fantasy otherworld when they're older and combine it much more with an adult's real world." A writer for Demensions online, who called Prospero's Children "a darn good read" felt that, in this regard, the author has reached her goal: "The book wavers just on the brink of being truly adult but strays back into childhood on occasion. At one moment, it feels like your old favorite bedtime story; in the next paragraph, hard choices and very grown-up power struggles take center stage."
The protagonist, Fernanda Capel, is sixteen years old, and since the death of her mother, she has taken care of her father, Robin, and her brother, Will. When Robin inherits an old house in Yorkshire, Fern wants to sell it, but her father convinces her that they should at least go and look at it. When they do, she and Will become drawn into a fantasy world that revolves around the lost city of Atlantis and the death of a mariner at the hands of a mermaid. At the beginning of the story, Fern meets a wily art dealer named Javier, and Alison, the woman who will replace her mother. Roz Kaveney noted in the Times Literary Supplement that "in a realist work, these two would represent the pull of the sexual and the struggle for power that goes with it. In Siegel's novel, they are there to help Fern in her struggle with witches and old gods."
As one of Prospero's children, Fern must find the key that will open the Gate of Death, a key hidden somewhere in the old house that is being sought by an evil witch who wants to unleash the destructive powers behind the door. Fern discovers she possesses powers—both telekinetic and telepathic—that can help her accomplish this. Other characters include Ragginbone, a kindly wizard-tramp, Lougarry the werewolf, a unicorn, magicians, and talking statues.
Naomi de Bruyn, who reviewed Prospero's Children for Green Man Review, online, called it "deep and engaging, and the most riveting I have read in a long time." SF Site reviewer Pat Caven wrote that "characterization is superb, right down to the bit players.… Description, dialogue and humour are all managed with subtle style and wit.… This is a fabulous novel, and Jan Siegel is an astounding writer."
Askew's second "Capel" book, The Dragon Charmer, opens some dozen years later, with Fern, now a public relations consultant, trying to forget her magical powers and lead a normal life. She agrees to marry a man she doesn't love, but on the night before her wedding she falls into a coma and is taken to the hospital. Others would draw on her powers, including Morgus, the sorceress half-sister of King Arthur, who lives in purgatory beneath the Tree of Life and Death, the branches of which contain the last head of a dragon charmer and support the earth, and the roots of which penetrate into hell. In addition, Azmordis, a spirit from Atlantis who has taken over the body of medievalist Dr. Laye, wants to use Fern's gifts to control a dragon waiting to hatch in the basement of a college building, while Fern is fighting the forces of evil and protecting her friend, Gaynor Mobberley, and her brother.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor favored those parts of The Dragon Charmer "where Fern's adolescent brother Will, who fancies himself an artist, passes time with the house goblin, an irrepressible Scottish sprite name Bradachin, while Fern develops a passionate crush on Gaynor." BookBrowser's Harriet Klausner cited " The Dragon Charmer as a strong fantasy novel because the story line ties the supernatural with the mundane in such a clever way that the otherworldly elements seem everyday and matter of fact." A Publishers Weekly contributor called it a "highly imaginative and darkly charming adult fantasy."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that, with The Witch Queen, Askew's "by-now characteristic mix of Gothic fantasy and Bridget Jones-esque singles satire/farce survives the occasional patch of romance novel prose …concluding with Fern in love and all major plot threads neatly tied up." In this concluding novel of the trilogy, Morgus, who was not killed by Fern after all, is seeking control of the world and revenge on Fern, who is still being challenged by the evil Azmordis. "Infusions of Scottish lore, Arthurian legend, and the myth of Atlantis intensify an often spine-tingling story of a variety of mythical and mystical figures," wrote Sally Estes in Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2000, Sally Estes, review of Prospero's Children, p. 1335; June 1, 2001, Sally Estes, review of The Dragon Charmer, p. 1856; August, 2002, Sally Estes, review of The Witch Queen, p. 1937.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2001, review of The Dragon Charmer, p. 715; July 1, 2002, review of The Witch Queen, p. 924.
Library Journal, July, 1990, A. M. B. Amantia, review of The Poison Heart, p. 131; April 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Prospero's Children, p. 126; August, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of The Witch Queen, p. 151.
New Statesman, June 18, 1982, Marion Glastonbury, review of Pzyche, p. 22.
New Yorker, August 20, 1984, review of Tantalus, p. 92.
New York Times Book Review, September 23, 1984, David Evanier, review of Tantalus, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, March 4,1983, review of Pzyche, p. 91; June 1, 1984, review of Tantalus, p. 56; June 29, 1990, review of The Poison Heart, p. 87; April 24, 2000, review of Prospero's Children, p. 67; June 11, 2001, review of The Dragon Charmer, p. 67; July 15, 2002, review of The Witch Queen, p. 60.
Times Literary Supplement, October 8, 1999, Roz Kaveney, review of Prospero's Children, p. 37.
BookBrowser,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (August 16, 2000), Jill Kosmensky, review of Prospero's Children; (June 22, 2001) Harriet Klausner, review of The Dragon Charmer; (June 23, 2002) Harriet Klausner, review of The Witch Queen.
Demensions,http://www.demensionszine.com/ (October 22, 2002), review of Prospero's Children.
Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (October 22, 2002), Naomi de Bruyn, review of Prospero's Children.
Locus,http://www.locusmag.com/ (March, 2002), interview with Askew.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (January 13, 2003), Pat Caven, review of Prospero's Children; Victoria Strauss, review of The Dragon Charmer.
Writers Write,http://www.writerswrite.com/ (September, 2002), reviews of The Dragon Charmer and The Witch Queen. *