Circles in the Stream

Circles in the StreamWhen I started reading Circles in the Stream, I worried that it would be too dark and scary. It begins with a rather intense scene of a large cat being viciously attacked by a dark being. When the plot settles in, there are rumors of ghosts and witches haunting the forest. However—and thankfully for most of the middle grade readers this book seems to be aimed squarely toward—it doesn’t fully follow through on that opening. Yes, the world is in danger due to encroaching dark magic, but for this age group that’s pretty much par for the course. The tension ratchets back instead of building from the opening scene. There’s darkness, but it’s surrounded by unicorns and rainbows and cute magical creatures.

Circles in the Stream is the first book in the Avalon: Web of Magic series, and it reads very much like the first book in a series. It introduces us to the world, the conflict, and the characters and I could almost imagine a checklist in the author’s head. This is a common issue when starting a series, and it’s not necessarily a deal breaker if you’re looking for a new series for your tween girl (and yes, they’re pretty girly—there aren’t many bones thrown to boys who might find the series interesting).

I can see the formula used to create the book, and it works just fine. Several well-known stories are mentioned, such as Grimm’s fairy tales and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The world of the series is certainly inspired by these books, with magical creatures and destinies to fulfill and portals to other worlds. The novel has several beautiful pencil sketches that look somewhat manga inspired. I think this is what attracted my daughter to the book to begin with. Yeah, overall the book feels kind of derivative, but if your kid loves stuff like this you probably won’t mind too much.

The heroines of the Avalon books are Emily, Adriane, and Kara—girls from different walks of life who are all going into the same seventh grade. Their differences, at least in this book, are pretty superficial. Based on the set up and descriptions of the book, I expected to see true conflict, but there wasn’t much beyond somewhat typical petty cliquishness. The girls need to join together to help fulfill a prophecy to save the magical world, and probably their own. Of course they solve the immediate problem (in this case, people wanting to bulldoze the nature preserve that houses the magical creatures and the portal to another world), although it felt a little too neatly tied up for my taste. Issues were just suddenly solved, almost like there was too much conflict to have it resolve more organically through the story.

The series takes place in rural Pennsylvania. Since I live in rural Pennsylvania, I’m always vaguely amused by books set here—apparently our woods are magic, because the Magic Tree House books are also set in Pennsylvania.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


Each of the girls fits a general stereotype. Emily is the newcomer who just moved into town after her parents’ divorce. The child of scientists, she’s the skeptic as the magic in the world starts to reveal itself. Her mother is a vet and Emily herself has a strong connection to animals. Emily is the healer.

Adriane is Native American. She lives with her grandmother in the woods and is in tune with the mystical nature of the preserve where the magical portal is. Adriane is the warrior.

Kara is the blond and beautiful daughter of the mayor. She’s spoiled and popular. Kara is the star, the one the other girls must learn to work with to make the magic work.

The human villain is a local woman who really wants to turn the nature preserve into a golf course. She’s pretty much a cardboard character who offers a short-term conflict for the girls to overcome together in this first book.

Maybe in future books their personalities get developed beyond this, but there’s not a lot in this one.

Violence & Scariness

Some dark creature is hunting down magical creatures and poisoning them. The damage it does is rather severe—burns and deep scratches. It’s a frightening predator, and it’s been killing local dogs, apparently for fun. There are a few scenes where we actually encounter the beast, but mostly we just see the aftermath.

Several of the scenes are kind of intense, though, in addition to the opening scene I mentioned above. There’s a chase scene through the woods that evokes Grimm’s fairy tales, and I got a “Snow White running from the huntsman” vibe from it. The final battle against demon-like creatures is a bit intense, although nothing out of the ordinary for books like this.

Mean Girls & Name Calling

The girls don’t get along at first. I suppose it’s fairly typical tween snarkiness, but I found it kind of annoying because it didn’t serve much of a purpose. Kara’s friends are downright mean, though, calling Emily names like “geek” and “farmgirl” and laughing at her before they even have a chance to get to know her. No wonder Emily is dreading starting at her new school. Kara is friends with these girls, although she seems to be a bit above them—she doesn’t take part in the teasing, although she doesn’t speak out against it, either. Adriane isn’t much better, though—she refers to Kara derisively as a “Barbie.”


Assuming the other 11 books in the series are similar to this one, this is a fine series for your independent reader to move on to once she’s outgrown the Rainbow Fairies and stuff like that. The pictures keep the longer length from being intimidating, and with 12 books at about 200 pages each, it should keep your reader busy for at least a few weeks. Personally, I’d use it as harmless filler for a voracious reader and hopefully a stepping stone to some more innovative and/or classic novels.

It looks like the current versions of the novels are rereleases, combining and finishing two series from about 10 years ago. The illustrations are part of the new editions.


Circles in the Stream by Rachel Roberts
Published in 2008 by Seven Seas Entertainment
First book in the Avalon: Web of Magic series
Read my daughter’s copy



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