Boneland – Alan Garner

boneland cover

“‘Listen. I’ll tell you. I’ve got to tell you.'”

One of the books I remember fondly from my childhood is The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a dark children’s adventure first published in 1960, that pulled in elements of mythology and horror. A few years ago I discovered the author had penned a couple of sequels, and tried The Moon of Gomrath, written some 3 years later. While not as ‘good’ as WoB, it carried the story of Susan and Colin forward.

Completing the ‘trilogy’ comes Boneland, a book written almost 50 years on. First point to note is that it is not a children’s book. Instead, we find an adult Colin now a rather damaged individual. It sort of fits, doesn’t it? What happens to the children who have strange, magical adventures, when they find themselves back in the ‘real world’ to grow up?

To be honest, calling this part of the trilogy doesn’t quite sit right. It is just too different, tonally and intended audience. It’s more of an afterword, a coda – the author’s farewell to characters he created half a century ago.

It’s not a particularly plot-driven story, either. We switch back and forth – with no chapter breaks – between Colin and his mental health issues, talking to a psychotherapist, and prehistoric, stone-age slivers of a tale steeped in myth and superstition. When resolutions are reached… well. Are they? Yes? But.

It’s tough to recommend this book. On the one hand, I love the idea of seeing what happens when children grow up after magical adventures. But this isn’t quite the story I would have wanted from that. It is magnificently written, it has a lot of power – but it is not a simple read. Colin’s intelligence spans history, mythology, astronomy, and so much more. It’s a heady mix, a swirl of concept and feeling that I’m just not sure I grasped enough of.

Perhaps I just didn’t ‘get’ enough of it. Or perhaps, like many readers, I was taken by surprise that the final part of a trilogy could be so very very different. I’m glad the end of the decade pushed me to finish the series, but overall I guess I’m not entirely sure what I just read!

Kindle: 165 pages / no chapter breaks
First published: 2012
Series: Alderley Edge book 3 (of 3)
Read from 21st-26th December 2019

My rating: 6/10

Mythologica – Stephen P Kershaw

An Encyclopedia of Gods, Monsters and Mortals from Ancient Greece.

“Myths are important. Greek myths are much more than children’s stories… They might, or might not, be true, but this doesn’t take away their power. They are traditional tales that are incredibly important to the people who tell them. But they are also free-flowing, adaptable, and very good for us to think about. They help us to understand the world.”

I absolutely adore Greek mythology, so even though this is marketed as a kids’ book, it still caught my eye. And how would it not – have you seen the artwork!?

mythologica_argosThe modern, abstract style is beyond eye-catching. It’s not something I’d associate with a book for children, but hey – what do I know? I loved it myself, although I did wonder if some – like the picture of Argos covered in eyes would perhaps be a little scary for younger kids.

I don’t think this is for too young an audience, to be honest, although that’s more to do with the myths than the language. The latter is fairly dumbed-down – I was particularly unimpressed with Athena being “totally awesome in battle” *eye roll* – but you might struggle to explain why Zeus married his sister, for instance.

The text was a bit of a let down after the art, with the briefest of bios on fifty various characters from the Greek pantheon and myths. Each gets just one page, meaning they are often quite ‘busy’. There’s perhaps an overdose of different fonts used trying to separate out various snippets of text, but again, perhaps this would be ‘exciting’ to a childish eye?

But, back to that artwork. It’s so refreshing, so challenging from any other Greek myth artwork I’ve seen. I’m feeling very inspired – and I’d grab a ‘coffee table book’ version of this for that alone!

NetGalley eARC: 112 pages
First published: 3rd September 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 1st September 2019

My rating: 7/10

A Gathering of Ravens – Scott Oden

“The storm howled out of the west like the terrible voice of God, shouting down the heretics who doubted the coming Apocalypse.”

The last kin of (a version of) Grendel – the monster in Beowulf – is on a mission to wreak vengeance on his brother’s killer. Along the way, he toys with a Norse warrior turned monk and his young apprentice, little knowing the impact one of them will have on both his quest and his unnaturally long life.

As the trail leads from Denmark to Ireland, the reader is treated to ancient myths meeting the rise of Christianity, in a tale of gods, kings and monsters, unlikely alliances, revenge and recreating yourself and the world.

I do wish I’d enjoyed this book more than I did. There’s a lot to be liked about it, including the mix of history and myth and the effort to cast orcs as part of both. However, I must be honest: I found the whole thing just a bit of a slog. Not bad by any means – and I did finish it, after all! – but there was something that just fell flat for me about the whole thing.

The characters, for instance, are either monstrous (well, on purpose!) and therefore unlikeable (mostly), or in my view just a bit… damp. I could not fathom the motivations of at least one main character, and therefore had very little empathy for dangers then encountered. As the story progresses, we switch from unpronounceable Norse names to a long list of old Irish, but as none of these characters are really there for any reason other than to further the plot, it just became an effort to remember who was who.

As for that plot, I found it a little too linear: creature seeks revenge. Other character is dragged along for the ride. Perhaps with something more involved, I would have been too. I did like the historic period – c.1000 AD – and the attempts to show the new ‘Nailed God’ worshippers ousting the old, more pagan ways, but there was either not enough explanation, or just too much reliance on ‘because: faith’, and either way I felt… meh.

Thankfully, I seem to be in the minority on this one, if Goodreads reviews are anything to go by. I could sense the love and passion that had gone into the writing, even before I read the afterword about ‘the story that wouldn’t let go’, and the author’s aims – which were fab to read. But, alas, this one just wasn’t for me.

NetGalley eARC: 400 pages
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 4th June – 5th July 2017

My rating: 5/10 – just didn’t grab me, ymmv