reviews 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

includes Otienu (the deity of the twins’ own people), Xango, Oxum, Ibeji and Yemanjá, the orixá who ‘receives’ Hussaina at critical moments in the narrative. Not to mention the babalorixá or the terreiro itself... Maybe this author’s life experiences

resolved this matter for her long ago: born in Ghana, living now in Senegal, educated at three prestigious American universities and author of three successful novels. As she acknowledges, she was also able to draw on the advice of Pushkin’s highly respected Editor-at-large, Sarah Odedina, a recent winner of the Branford Boase Award, as BfK readers may well know. The authorial/editorial decision, challengingly enough, seems to be: very little overt explanation...let the context do the work.      

      response was a lengthy and rewarding       explanations than I expected; which much enriched a second reading. The novel could absorb a reader - adolescent or adult - who relishes immersion in little known cultural contexts; and who is happy to work mostly through inference, rather than explanations which might well have the feel of intrusive footnotes. GF

A Snowfall Of Silver 

Laura Wood, Scholastic, 398pp, 978-1-407192-41-3, £7.99 pbk

It is 1931 and Freya is 19, impulsive, impatient and obsessed with becoming an actress. She runs away from home to the heady theatrical life which London has to offer, determined somehow to realise her ambition. This impetuous journey is not quite  believe as Freya has a sister living in London who allows her to stay and, in addition, she meets Kit on the train who offers to show her around the Queen Anne theatre, where he is conveniently working as part of the backstage team. This pattern recurs in the novel-crisis followed by safety net or sometimes improbable solution. With the help of this repeated device the reader is led ably and protectively through the novel. Wood skilfully recreates the theatrical world and her characters are convincingly and entertainingly drawn. The full gamut of sexual partnerships is presented in the story but the inherent tensions are not always explored. The gradual deepening of Kit and Freya’s feelings for each other runs through the novel, a steady and reliable thread which is, ultimately, neatly but not conventionally tied. Freya’s realisation- after her competent but uninspired performance as an understudy- that she will never be a great actress is followed by the conviction that her career path lies in directing Kit’s plays. With the help of Rhys Cantwell, an internationally famous director who Kit

introduced her to in the Queen Anne theatre, her plans come to fruition on a London stage and the novel ends with the curtain rising on her production with Mr Cantwell, her family, friends- and, of course, Kit-in the theatre to support her.

This a pleasing,cosy read which

comforts in these dark, distressing times. The narrative moves along richly and entertainingly and Wood addresses deeper issues such as racism which give the story gravitas. There is escapism aplenty in the after-show parties and the interplay between characters in the somewhat claustrophobic world of a theatrical company on tour. A Snowfall of Silver is perfectly cheering antidote to the long, dark nights of Autumn and Winter. VR

Witch 

Finbar Hawkins, Zephyr, 302pp, 978-1-8389-3561-0, £12.99 hbk

Hawkins has set this complex and gripping story in 17th century England when witches were feared by a deeply suspicious population, shot through with misogyny. Eveline of the Birds-or Evey, as she prefers to be called- has always suppressed and denied her magical powers, pulling away from her mother and her younger sister Dill, feeling on the outside of their small circle. However, things begin to change when Evey and Dill witness the murder of their mother by four men. This incident opens the story and it is sickeningly brutal in its clarity, intensely focused viciousness and joy in slaughter. Hawkins uses archaic forms and structures of language, which immerse the reader more fully into the 17th century. Evey is consumed by a desire for revenge and, honouring her mother’s last wishes, she takes Dill to the coven led by their Aunt Grey. However, she has already decided to leave Dill in the safety of the coven while she pursues their mother’s killers. Sadly, the coven is not the safe haven their mother hoped it would be. Evey’s search for the men is the major storyline in the remainder of the book-and a wild and riveting story it is, full of betrayal, deceit, brutality and cunning. With the help of her friends Anne Greeneyes and Peter Merchantmen and, at last, her realisation that she has found her ‘witching way’ and can use it as the powerful weapon it is, she triumphs.        identity, becoming what she knows she really is and encouraging other women to be the same. Evey and her like are powerful women, working together to battle the dark forces which move in men and black-hearted witches alike.

This is more than an absorbing read - it is cinematic and it educates: be what you know you can be VR

A Telling of Stones 

Neil Rackham, illus Alistair Wiseman, Stornoway: Acair Books, 218pp, 978-1789070132, £15 hbk

Time back, way back, on the Atlantic coast of the Isle of Lewis a raiding party was wrecked in a storm. Much gear could be retrieved by the villagers of Uig Bay and in a shoreline pool there  surely only have been a princess. Her dress was a wonder of weaving and about her neck was a leather wallet which contained a ring with a red stone in it, a silver key, and a small pebble pierced by a round hole.


useless this later proved to be a Seeing Stone through which a person so-gifted might descry all manner of things from local events or weather warnings to threats or prophecies of future calamity and death. Such stones are the matter of

folklore but for all the plural of its title this rendition of their magic        who had to do with the stone of the drowned Princess Gradhag. It is a much-travelled object originating       its way with its companionate objects around the waters of the North from Norway to Shetland and Orkney and then to the sea and lochs around the Western Highlands. Nor is it attached to any family, although kings and chieftains are the movers and shakers of their times and may thus  it moves too among common folk, women seers, even a selkie, but especially as an instrument in the hands of Kenneth Odhar, the Brahan Seer, whose prophecies and fate are one of the book’s themes.

Themes indeed are Neil Rackham’s business rather than making a consistent story about the Stone. His seventeen chapters weave about among rumours and        are also a theme) and there is no sort of orderly chronology, characters having different histories in different stories. But the genius of the book lies in its respect for the nature of folklore where authenticity belongs to whoever is telling the story. The knotted narratives are hardly

fare for child readers and their sequencing owes everything to the shaping hand of Rackham who gives sources from which he has selected the tellings of the Stone. But (for all that he is an American and an author of books about global business practice) his writing chimes with an oral culture that is for everyone and, in an unusual device, he follows the theme of each chapter with a distinctive interlude, printed on pale blue tinted paper, where he takes the reader into other stories, anecdotes, and superstitions on such matters as Knots, and Selkies, and the Blue Men of the Minch. This and the rock-strewn decorations of Alistair Wiseman, make for an hypnotic tour around one

of the Seas of Story. BA Reynard the Fox


Retold by Anne Louise Avery, Bodleian Library, 446pp, 978 1 85124 555 0, £20.00 hbk

The medieval saga of Reynard the Fox, tremendously popular in the Middle Ages and again in the nineteenth century, has fallen out of favour in recent decades. James Simpson published a version in 2015, which I haven’t read, but otherwise this new retelling by Anne Louise Avery is  

for BfK is that this story of a wily Fox, his enemies the Wolf and the Bear, and their tempestuous monarch the Lion, is in no way a book for children. I had forgotten how cartoonishly cruel the humour is. Maybe some children would be amused by that. But there is also a lot of satire of medieval religion which, to be honest, isn’t that amusing even for an adult. And yet, this is a tremendous

achievement on the part of Anne Louise Avery, who has breathed fresh life into a moribund classic. She has based her translation on Caxton’s 1482 version, but there are many elements that are hers alone. She really enjoys herself, for instance, with a Rabelais-esque list of the victuals Bruin the Bear packs ‘for a light morning repast’, including ‘several pawfuls of sour green gooseberries’.         smacking lists of culinary delicacies.      refract one of the overriding themes of the book, hunger and greed. As the adder says, ‘The great necessity of hunger may cause both men and animals to break their oaths. That is the way of things.’

But the essence of the book is not

food but language. Where Caxton uses a particularly relishable word such as ‘slonked’ for swallowed, Avery tends to retain it, allowing the context to suggest the meaning, although there is also a handy glossary at the back of the book. She also adds many of her own verbal curlicues, so Caxton’s ‘He shoved the table away from him’ becomes ‘he shoved the table over with a thunderhorn-clatter-ban’. Language is the cunning Reynard’s

secret weapon, weaving ‘word-lace’ to get himself out of many a tight spot:       his own miraculous escape out of nothing but the night air and a string of syllables.’ A very welcome addition to the

      tuned appreciation of the Flanders landscape, ‘the cross-hatch of dyke and stream and ditch, their waters      and fennel in the heat.’ Avery’s descriptions of the characters in their own landscape are vivid and resonant, and owe almost nothing to Caxton.       winded legal arguments tedious, others will be entranced by ‘the skein-  NP

Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020 35

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