Tamsin, by Peter S. Beagle (1999) E

October 27th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 6.20.2013 
Book from: Personal collection

Arriving in the English countryside to live with her mother and new stepfather, Jenny has no interest in her surroundings, until she meets Tamsin. Since her death over 300 years ago, Tamsin has haunted the lonely estate without rest, trapped by a hidden trauma she can’t remember, and a powerful evil even the spirits of night cannot name. To help her, Jenny must delve deeper into the dark world than any human has in hundreds of years, and face danger that will change her life forever.

This is the book that restored my Beagle-faith after I bounced violently off of The Innkeeper’s Song; frankly I think it’s a bit of a hidden gem, given how little I’ve seen it mentioned or discussed. I cannot recommend this more for fans of spooky English/Celtic fantasy, like Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard, or even Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. It is also quite queer, in a very sweet, nondramatized way. (Jenny remarks on her head-over-heels reaction to Tamsin by saying, “I’d never been the type to get girl-crushes before,” and that is the full extent to which she dissects any issues of sexual identity; the rest of the time she just goes on loving Tamsin.)

The initial few chapters – when it’s not clear yet what sort of haunted universe Jenny has stepped into, and her encounters with the uncanny are glancing and inexplicable – are by far the creepiest. But even once the central mystery is mostly laid bare, the combination of characters and world, both fantastical and actual-historical, are terrifically compelling.

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Mythology Anthology: Katabasis/Anabasis (2010) E

July 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Date read: 4.28.11
Book from: Personal collection. Now available as a PDF.
Reviewer: Emera

Home-brewed comics, yum. The is the second comic anthology published by artist collective WHIRR WHIRR WHIRR. I never got my hands on the first volume, also mythology-themed. This one is specifically themed around katabasis and anabasis – descent and ascent, most often used in a literary/mythological context to refer to a hero’s journey to the underworld, but here interpreted with pleasing variety and in a range of mythological traditions. The bold, Dürer-remixing cover art is by Hunter Heckroth; evocative inset illos rendered in pencil by Kris Mukai draw upon the myth of Isis recovering her slaughtered husband’s body parts. My favorite was a surprisingly sinewy Isis mid-flight, viewed from behind – all of the illustrations in Mukai’s series seem to keep the drama focused somewhere offstage, creating a sense of suspension and quiet intensity.

Laura Kovalcin starts off the comics in the collection with the melancholy, slightly saccharine, but beautifully rendered tale of a lonely banshee:

I greatly admired her fluid linework, and her use of negative space creates wonderful atmosphere – I was reminded faintly of some of Charles Vess’ work on Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. (Maybe it’s the hair, too.)

Erica Perez follows with an interpretation of a Taino death/creation myth from Puerto Rico; her quirkily simplified figures capture the myth’s absurdity and sublimity equally well. The scene below, for example, illustrates the reactions of a pair of parents to the discovery that the body of the son they’ve murdered has been transformed into fish (don’t you hate it when that happens?):

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The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley (1999) E

December 21st, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Date read: 12.19.10
Book from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

book folkkeeper

“Here in the cellar, I control the Folk. Here, I’m queen of the world.”

The Folk Keeper is much darker and stranger than I expected based on the title and cover art alone – which is awesome, since that’s the way I prefer it. Corinna Stonewall is a proud, vengeful orphan girl who by wit and trickery earned the position of Folk Keeper. In subterranean dark, she appeases the anger of the vicious, cave-dwelling Folk – described as “mostly wet mouth and teeth.” Summoned by a dying lord to be Folk Keeper of his island estate, where the Folk are particularly voracious and mysteries abound, Corinna sets about uncovering any secrets that might give her more power, whether over the Folk or the estate’s various inhabitants. At the same time, it comes clear that she must begin to come to terms with her own secrets: her unknown parentage, her odd powers and desires.

Billingsley’s angular, vivid prose is an absolute pleasure, full of sharp dialogue, intriguing detail, and unsettling, obliquely beautiful imagery; she’s one of the most successful stylists I’ve encountered in recent years. If you have any familiarity with Celtic folklore, the key to Corinna’s secrets is pretty obvious, but Billingsley puts a number of creative spins on this and other traditional elements within the novel. Some are more convincingly organic than others, but all are beautifully described. And Corinna’s friendship with Finian, the estate’s eccentric, ship-loving heir, is genuinely endearing, with his good heart and gentle quips countering and eventually thawing her chilly Machiavellian pragmatism. I would gladly welcome a sequel just to read more of their [ADORABLE] exchanges. (<— ill-concealed fangirling, exhibit A.)

The only point on which I was less happy: the last few pages seemed overburdened by their obvious instructive agenda and labored symbolism, which cost the narrative some of its earlier leanness and fluidity.

Nonetheless, The Folk Keeper is destined to become part of my permanent collection, and likely the subject of numerous re-reads. Fans of traditional fairy lore, Patricia McKillip, Holly Black, or Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard, go forth and read! In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly anticipating Billingsley’s next YA novel, which is apparently slated for spring 2011…

Go to:
Franny Billingsley: bio and works reviewed
Author’s Note for The Folk Keeper

“Where is Rowan Morrison?”

June 29th, 2010 § 10 comments § permalink

In which Christopher Lee is amazing

I’ve always wanted to see the 1973 drama/thriller/sorta-horror classic The Wicker Man, and it ended up being a rollickingly fun watch for last week’s summer solstice.

In the film, straight-laced Sergeant Howie is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison on Summer Isle, a remote Scottish island, only to find that not only does every villager on the island deny any knowledge of Rowan Morrison, but that his visit coincides with the island’s highly enthusiastic and – to the devoutly Christian Howie – unwholesome May Day preparations. Cue an increasingly frenzied search by the valiant but humorless Howie, a collision of equally blind faiths, and more references to to Celtic folklore and fertility symbolism than you can shake a Maypole at. There’s an inn named the Green Man; a sweet shop stocked with pastries and chocolates in the shape of women, leaping hares, and what look like rams’ heads; lots of nubile gamboling in graveyards and stone circles; a lush estate encircled by phallic topiaries… Oh, and Christopher Lee as the island’s erudite neo-pagan lord, who enjoys nothing so much as wearing a kilt and soliloquizing about the joys of the animal world while intercut with footage of glistening snails intertwining and set over a soundtrack of hypnotically pulsating drums and recorder.

Christopher Lee, plus kilt

No, I didn’t have too much fun watching this movie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

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