herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

How dark is too dark? Well, it's elemental ...

The Silver Witch By Paula Brackston Thomas Dunne (2015) €11.50 HHHHI

I love a good supernatural, time-twisty narrative, and this delivers. Tilda Fordwells is grieving the tragic death of her husband, hard on the heels of their honeymoon.

One year on, she moves into the isolated cottage they'd bought near a lake in Wales, and immediately, strange things start to happen.

Electricity won't stay on around her, for example, and she starts receiving visions of a shamanistic woman dressed in Dark Age garb, and visitations from what appears to be a demon.

In another part of the time-space continuum, Seren, an albino witch/healer lives outside her community and yet, is an integral part of it. She manages the everyday slights and challenges of being such an outsider, and battles with the attraction that she feels for her Prince, Brynach.

As his wife, the princess Wenna seeks the help of the healer despite her fear and loathing of Seren, the healer and the prince lose their battle against their attraction.

As Tilda slowly comes out of her shell, and allows the magic of the lake and of the community to work within her, she finds her connections to the seemingly random place deepen.

As Seren comes closer to the end of her existence, it becomes clear that the two are linked across the centuries, and that an age-old curse must be undone to avert further tragedy.

I'm finding that this review is reflecting the sort of Hollywood fantasy voice that accompanies any discussions of magic in fiction - and I'm okay with that.

This takes some time to warm to, and while it may seem a natural extension of the dual narrative to spend as much time in the past as in the present, the present is the most interesting part of the tale.

Some of the dialogue is leaden with exposition, and many of the conversations flog certain plot points repetitively; Brackston is at her best in the lyrical prose that paints the picture of the place and of the two disparate time periods.

That Tilda seems to make rather a speedy emotional recovery - there's romance with a local fella implicated - makes me come over all judgemental: we don't really get enough of her grieving process to know precisely how far she's come along.

Nevertheless, this is an engaging read, one that describes Tilda's experience of becoming magical beautifully, and is, ultimately, a story of hope.

There's no such thing as death, really, just existences that change shape through time.

The Day We Disappeared

By Lucy Robinson Penguin (2015) €10.50 HHHII

This looks like a friendly sort of narrative about women pals, but there are many dark aspects to this story of Annie and Kate.

The latter has run from her life at home and blagged her way into a job as groom at an up-and-coming equestrian's eventing yard. The former has had a tragedy in her youth that is informing her relationships with men, so that when she meets a too-good-to-be-true handsome charmer, the reader is already expecting the worst.

After some leaden exposition is gotten out of the way, and I recovered from the sheer implausibility of anyone getting a horse job with zero experience, I began to enjoy Robinson's sense of humour.

She is very funny at times, the times when she's not trying to wed complicated psychological thriller with romantic comedy.

There is a big twist, but the pay-off is slight: I spent rather a lot of time trying to justify both women's neuroticism, as they both seemed to be overreacting to their circumstances.

The vastly different men with whom each got involved proved to be an interesting point in the end, of which I can't say more without spoiling.

Robinson's treatment of character is deft, and her story is peopled by some real firecrackers, but the thriller aspects were less successful.

The time it took to set up the denouement was not always time well spent, as it was overwhelmed by excessive explanation where more focused writing might have done the job.

Robinson is a funny writer, and a lighter touch in future might be the best use of her talents.

Hugo & Rose

By Bridget Foley St Martin's Press (2015) €22.50 HHIII

If you're planning on judging this book by its cover, you'd be way off the mark. It's got a light-hearted romantic kind of vibe, which despite the fantasy elements, this book is most assuredly not.

This too has a sting in its tail, via yet another (gasp) twist, and it's also got an unsympathetic female lead - a trope we can lay at the foot of the massively successful Gone Girl.

Here, though, between feeling deceived by the cover, and not met with the same high degree of psychological manipulation that was to be had from Gillian Flynn's novel, this just felt mean-spirited to all concerned.

Rose has had dreams of Hugo since she was small child, and as she ages, all she wants to do is sleep to get away from her young family and frolic with her dream pal.

Even though the novel eventually lives up to the darkness it unexpectedly exudes, it is too little, too late. It was a clever idea, but it seems to have been mispackaged.

A Vintage Wedding

By Katie Fforde Cornerstone (2015) €15.99 HHHII

No twists, no demons, no time travel, no completely unsympathetic characters... I have been a fan of Fforde for some time now, and this follows closely in her previous footsteps.

Set in a picturesque Cotswolds village, three women who, for various reasons, are at loose ends in their lives club their skills together to start a vintage wedding business. Each has a chequered romantic history and each finds true love in unexpected ways. This summary is making me wish for a little bit of darkness or twistiness now! There's no pleasing some.

Despite the lack of depth, there is some charming humour here, although I wasn't as keen on Fforde's offering as I have been in the past.

The dialogue in the first several chapters of the book did an enormous amount of heavy lifting, and lacked the verve and sparkle of previous efforts. Still, it lived up to its premise, and as light romantic comedies go, this was both funny and sexy.

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