Mystical Circles

Mystical CirclesMystical Circles by S.C. Skillman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Telling the story of Juliet, a freelance reporter hoping to sell a documentary about the Wheel of Love, an obscure sect of people living in the Cotswolds Hills of Great Britain, as well as potentially save her younger sister Zoe, the newest member from falling into the clutches of the man who leads this group, Mystical Circles at once both delivers and confounds.

Mystical Circles was an intriguing read. Skillman has a keen eye and understanding of the dynamics that push and pull people apart as well as the psychology behind those dynamics. The insight is so keen and the writing so well-done that unfortunately the characters in the book are compelling while being frustratingly obscure. Skillman delivers details about the crew living and functioning at the Wheel of Love with just enough love and finesse to paint a constant yearning to know infinitely more about each person occupying a place within this retreat from the world. While unable to fully know each character I found this obscurity to be quite true to life in actually getting to know someone. How much do we really ever get to know someone? As Craig, the leader of The Wheel of Love (and an incredibly intense Idealist entrenched in his own ideals to the exclusion of the outside world and in direct contrast to his teachings to his people), makes it a point to tell Juliet: “Nothing here is what it seems to be.” We are never quite who we seem to be and this novel explores the gamut of ways a person’s ego – born of fear – can color both perceptions of self as well as how others see us.

There is a point in which a character, by the name of Al (an American living in the UK by choice), makes a comment about “Brits and their subtlety”. This may be the most apt comment to describe this book. Skillman weaves a tale that tugs you along regardless of how unwilling you might be to follow the lead, often wondering just what’s around the bend for these characters. The love story element for Juliet is so low-key that it often becomes lost in the turbulence between the other characters. Because of this I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a romance, a psychological exploration of the mindsets and ego-trips that send people fleeing the realities of every day life, or some new approach to enlightening the world to what are a great many profound spiritual concepts through often infuriatingly slow-paced revelations.

Truthfully what drew me in to the reading was a personal connection with Juliet, being the elder sister who worries about her younger sister in taking up with Craig and this band of misfit characters all belonging to the Wheel of Love. Having had a similar experience in seeing my younger sister take up with a religious group whose tenets I understood only peripherally, I too went to visit and stay a few days with her (although this was in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York as opposed to the picturesque and ancient Cotswolds) to try and gain better understanding if not try and bring her away from such cultural, religious differences. Juliet’s experience with the Wheel of Love differed immensely from my experience but I could understand and relate to her struggle with accepting Craig’s teachings without quite understanding them or the overt willingness to freely join in. While Zoe, Juliet’s sister, eventually reaches an emotional and spiritual destination previously unexpected and with another man entirely, much without the aid (or hindrance, as it may be) of Juliet, so too does Juliet, finding love in the most unexpected of places and in the person she most denies evokes such a deep response in her. Her experience with the Wheel of Love changes her, although to the better is left up to the reader.

I too connected with Craig with his intense idealism and loved watching his struggle to put his teachings (of the most abstract kind – freeing ourselves from the burdens of our pasts to live in and accept the “here and now”) into practical use for himself. These are struggles I easily relate to also in being intensely idealistic and understanding abstract concepts the likes of which are explored in this book. Watching him through Juliet’s eyes brought about quite a few moments of self-reflection, as in “is this how I appear to others and if so am I just as difficult and frustrating to nail down?”

The reading of Mystical Circles left me with mixed feelings although none too far to the negative that I would not recommend this book to someone looking for a thought-provoking interlude. Having finished the reading days before writing this review I am still puzzling and mulling over the cast of characters, complete with their many flaws and eventual personal resolutions, which Skillman brings to the page. Filled with keen insights into human psychology and built upon the subtle foundations of spiritual insights that we all want to intellectualize and glorify for it, Mystical Circles was, for the most part, an enjoyable read, thereby netting it a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

I deducted only one star from the full 10 rating only due to the slow-pacing and somewhat convoluted plot. There isn’t just one theme that stands out in this book and while I love a tale woven with subtlety and complexity there were simply too many layers to this story for it to be a stand out on any singularity. Skillman’s attention to the editing and appearance was spot on. I found few, if any, editing misses that detracted from the reading. While well-written Mystical Circles just couldn’t achieve a maximum rating for me based on all the aforementioned reasons.

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