Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously, the focus has included witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more.
Now, I have a confession: it is Sunday. A day and a half late. But yesterday was filled to the brim with baking: homemade pizza dough, casseroles, flapjacks. All helped by a little six-year old girl who, in all fairness, kneads dough like a professional! I mean, what better way to entertain her when the rain is just incessant? The problem now, though, is that we have a lot of flapjacks brimful of butter, sugar and oaty deliciousness… and I am trying to limit my calories!
Anyway, back to the list and with the direction of “books that cast a spell on you”, I am going to set the following rules: the novels I select must be two things: full of vivid characters that live with the reader after the novel has finished; and some touch of the supernatural as we are in the run up to Hallowe’en.
And the first offering to you is a no brainer for me:
From the opening lines, from the beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay, from the concept taken over by Patrick Ness after Siobhan Dowd’s own death from breast cancer at the age of 47, to the heart wrenching conclusion, this is a haunting book. Powerful. Mythic.
Conor O’Malley is the young boy at the heart of the novel, watching his mother fight her own battle with cancer and despairing – until across the fields comes a monster, a living embodiment of all that is wild and dangerous in the world, a bristling monstrous creature full of power and strength towering over Conor’s house – and yet as nothing compared to the monsters of Conor’s own grief.
“What are you?” Conor asked, pulling his arms closer around himself.
I am not a “what”, frowned the monster. I am a “who”.
“Who are you, then?” Conor said.
The monster’s eyes widened. Who am I? it said, its voice getting louder. Who am I?
The monster seemed to grow before Conor’s eyes, getting taller and broader. A sudden, hard wind swirled up around them, and the monster spread its arms out wide, so wide they seemed to reach to opposite horizons, so wide they seemed big enough to encompass the world.
I have had as many names as there are years to time itself! roared the monster. I am Herne the Hunter! I am Cernunnos! I am the eternal Green Man!
A great arm swung down and snatched Conor up in it, lifting him high in the air, the wind whirling around them, making the monster’s leafy skin wave angrily.
Who am I? the monster repeated, still roaring. I am the spine that the
mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O’Malley.
“You look like a tree,” Conor said.
Secondly, and with a different tone, comes not one novel but a series.
The Dublin Murder Squad Series by Tana French
These novels work on a series of levels: they are a gripping crime series with the most wonderful touch in her interviews – oh so tense -and her dialogue in general, especially amongst cliques and close intense relationships. Alongside that, her series changes focus from one detective to another in each book so we are continually reassessing and re-evaluating our understanding of her characters. And, at the same time, they are steeped in a Gothic sensibility and language and a suggestion that this empirical, reductivist, rational world in which we live is barely the surface of something darker, wilder and more monstrous.
The first book I read was The Secret Place in which the supernatural is most obviously front and centre – and also the one that, having read the rest of the series now, is perhaps least successful. In The Woods – where our detective is haunted by half-memories of hi childhood and the scent and sense of some creature in the eponymous woods – is going to be televised tomorrow and I am very hyped to watch it – but also anxious because I pray that the adaptation lives up to the novel.
My favourites in the series are probably The Likeness for its intense relationships and Broken Harbour for its depiction of madness, insanity and perhaps the possibility of something real hiding within the fabric of the houses we build to feel safe.
Up in the attic, the wind poured in at the hole under the eaves with a high fluttering wail like a fox or a banshee. I squinted up into the open hatch. For an instant I thought I saw something move—a shifting and coalescing of the black, a deliberate muscled ripple—but when I blinked, there was only darkness and the flood of cold air.
A beautiful, haunting re-imagining of the witch-nymph Circe, least of her brothers and sisters but learning Pharmakeia, the powers and magics of plants and the natural world, and with a talent for transformations. Almost all the big names of mythology creep into her narrative: Circe’s own father, Oceanus, Prometheus, Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus and Penelope, Daedalus, Athena…
Victim, exile, eternal, powerful and powerless. Circe is a wonderful creation and her voice compellingly magical.
WHEN I WAS BORN, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.
Firmly rooted in the historical, The Winternight Trilogy – especially the first book The Bear and the Nightingale, vividly depicts the privations of feudal Russia or Russ’ even in the households of the boyar or lord of a village. Woven into that narrative is its place on the liminal time when Christianity was been adopted, but memories of ancient rituals and superstitions and legends abound. And are found to be entirely true and real, albeit waning in the face of modernity: domovoi ,dvorovoi, vodianoy, Medved the Bear and his brother, Morozko the Frost King.
And brave, independent, increasingly powerful Vasilisa Petrovna who sees and sense them and grows into her own powers as a witch.
“You can’t change it to a brush,” said Morozko, seeing her. “Because that would be to believe it is now straw. Just allow it, now, to be a brush.”
Disgruntled, Vasya glowered into Solovey’s flank. “I don’t understand.”
“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”
Throwing in a truly fantasy novel at the end, Rothfuss’ first two novels in the chronicle introduce us to Kvothe, the eponymous Kingkiller and powerful wielder of magicks and music as an unassuming innkeeper. But with the powerful promise of more to come
“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”
We are still awaiting the third in the series which is apparently called The Doors of Stone and currently schedules for release in August 2020. Which does prompt the question of how Goodreads currently has a number of five-star ratings for it…. Indeed, it prompted Rothfuss himself to comment:
While it’s nice to see folks out there giving this book five stars, and in some cases even reviewing it, I’ll admit that I’m kinda puzzled.
After thinking it over for a while, I’ve realized there’s only one explanation for this:
Time travelers love my books.
This is strangely reassuring, as it lets me know that, eventually, I do finish my revisions, and the book turns out good enough so that I still have a following out there in the big ball of wibbly-wobbly…. timey-wimey…. stuff that I like to think of as the future.
I would also like to say, future readers, that I appreciate your taking time to read and review my books. It’s really flattering knowing that even with time-travel technology at your disposal, you’d rather read my stuff and mention it here on goodreads, rather than, say, hunt dinosaurs, get drunk with da Vinci, or pants Hitler.
Secondly, I’d like to say if you’re The Doctor, and you’re reading this, I would make an excellent traveling companion. I know you normally tend to hang out with pretty young women and robot dogs. And honestly? I respect that.
Still, I bring certain things to the table. Humor, witty banter, and a beard that will allow me to blend in seamlessly with any pre-industrial Germanic culture. I’m also an excellent kisser and play a mean game of Settlers of Catan.
Just throwing it out there.
Lastly, if any of you happen to have a digital copy of the book you’d like to e-mail me, I’d really appreciate it. I’d love to see the five-star version of the book, because right now, the one I’m toiling away at is about a three an a half-in my opinion. It would save me a lot of work if I could just skip to the end and publish it.
So, apologies for the lateness in posting but these are my five – or five of my many – books which may cast a spell on you as they have on me!