(2012) Graham Joyce, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 389pp, ISBN 978-0-575-11528-6
Have you ever heard of the expression 'away with the fairies'? Have you ever wondered where it came from and what it might mean? Well you are about to find out in Graham Joyce’s take on the disappearance twenty years ago of teenager Tara Martin in the mysterious Outwoods part of Charnwood Forest, and her miraculous return two decades later, looking exactly the way she did when she left. Unchanged. Not a day older. How can this be? It cannot be, of course, but seemingly it is, at least that is the mystery facing Peter Martin when he gets a call at Christmas from his parents that changes his world and gives him a glimpse into others he could never dream existed, or perhaps, that was his only access to them, through dreams.
Tara tells a story of being taken away by a Hiero (or Yarrow) a mysterious stranger on a white horse who takes her to a land where time obeys different rules, and while she must stay with him for a mere six months, twenty years have passed in her former world. Her parents are old, and made brittle by the heartache of her disappearance. Her former boyfriend, Richie, was suspected and arrested for her murder, and that experience has ruined his life. More important is the effect it has on her brother, Peter. What happened in the past destroyed his friendship with Richie, but now he has other more pressing concerns around his sister’s miraculous re-appearance, namely the attraction of his son to his vivacious aunt, and the re-appearance of Hiero who may be there to steal away another girl, and Peter’s eldest daughter seems the prime candidate. He certainly wouldn’t want to lose his own daughter for decades, especially when he learns of the promiscuous, sexual nature of this other realm. But despite the undoubted physical evidence in front of them, is Tara really to be believed, that’s something for psychiatrist Vivian Underwood to find out, and if she can’t there might be some other explanation in the form of a geological fault that releases gases and vapours into the woods that may effect the mind, make people see or imagine that they are seeing things, and yet…
Within the covers there are 43 chapters and an epilogue and at the start of each of them is a little epigram, a little quote, sometimes connected to fairies, and the fantastic, sometimes not. The very first is from Shakespeare, followed by the likes of Auden, Yeats, Einstein, Chaucer, or snippets from children’s nursery rhyme, even extracts from trial proceedings involving the disappearance of people who have been replaced by changelings, or so it was believed. These are little gems, illuminating and enhancing the plot.
Reading this book is no hardship. Joyce is deservedly a multi award-winning novelist, and one of my favourite writers of fantasy and dark fantasy, with the occasional foray into horror (and hey, even sports writing-check out his book on being a goalie, not to mention some of his early young adult fare like TWOC and Do the Creepy Thing) and has a unique and compelling narrative voice. Fairies have been a staple of fantastic fiction for centuries, as illustrated by the quotes at the start of each chapter in SKOFT, and have been really prevalent in recent years in the worlds of young adult fiction and urban fantasy, particularly of a noir-ish nature. Joyce himself has some previous with the world of the fey in past offerings, but this tackles the subject from another, more serious, adult direction, in terms of sexual content, great characterisation and – as usual, excellent, plotting, all of which adds up to a compelling, entertaining read. One of the books of the year.
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