By Alison Croggon
Expected publication August 27, 2013 by Candlewick
An unsuspecting traveller stumbles upon a tale of witchcraft, violence, and obsessive love when he visits the desolate northern lands. Will he be captured by the magic himself?
This was an ARC I picked up on a whim at TLA - the ladies at the Candlewick both are always so lovely and willing to chat with me that I end up walking away with a lot of titles from their booth. I've never read Croggon before, though I've heard of The Books of Pellinor - they were released before I rediscovered my love of fantasy novels. This is billed as a magical retelling of Wuthering Heights - which I think I've read, many many moons ago. So, I cannot really speak to how closely or not this story hews to that one. Apologies!
What I can speak about is how this book stands on its own. I have to say, my initial impressions of this book were not terribly favorable. Right from the start, readers can tell that this is not going to be your typical YA read. The narrative begins with Hammel, the aforementioned visitor. He is renting a house and endeavors to meet the man from whom he is renting. Unfortunately, his encounter with Damek, the landlord, is anything but pleasant. When he returns to his rental, the narrative switches to Anna, the housekeeper, who begins to relate Damek's tragic history. I really enjoyed this narrative style - Hammel frames the story, with the opening section and the epilogue, while the majority of the story is told as Anna tells Hammel the story of her master and former mistress. There is a brief section in the middle of Anna's narration pulled from Lina's journal that gives further insight into the complicated and magical past. The structure is really interesting and it keeps the story moving along. The book clocks in at less than 300 pages; however, it's a very dense read. The language is complicated and literary and the explanation of the magic found in this land is also incredibly complex. For me, the narrative style and the way this book is written highlight an author of exceptional skill and become the strength of this book.
On the other hand, the story itself felt a bit flat for me. As I mentioned, the explanation of the magic, particularly the vendetta, is very complex - in a way that made me question its logic. Additionally, I had no sympathy for Lina or Damek, making it difficult to care about the terrible things that may have befallen them. Additionally, the book seemed a bit unevenly paced. The story of Lina, Damek, and Anna's childhood seems to fill up a greater portion of the book than the tragedy that leads to their current situation. I found the ending to be supremely dissatisfying for all the build-up in the first part of the novel.
Overall, I'm ambivalent about the book. I think Croggon clearly shows her skills as a writer but the story itself didn't particularly work for me. Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.