“If I know anything for certain it’s that neither love nor hate is ever simple.”
Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom. A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.
Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
A.G. Slatter’s debut novel is one of intrigue and mystery. I must admit that it drew me in rather slowly, because I couldn’t quite figure out what type of story I was reading, but after the first few chapters I was simply swept away my Miren, her old family stories, and the world she moves through, so like and unlike our own. A world populated by all the creatures that lurk on the edge of stories.
The tale follows Miren, a young woman who lives at Hob’s Head, a great stately home built on a cliff by the first O’Malleys hundreds of years before. They built and prospered, because of the deal struck with the mer in the seas below, but in the present, in Miren’s time, their glory has fallen. Their ships do not return, their property lies in ruin, and they no longer produce many offspring due to the years of inbreeding. Miren is the last true O’Malley left, and when her grandfather dies she is determined to find a way out of Hob’s Head and her grandmother’s schemes to rebuild the family fortune through her.
Not wanting to be sold as a prize, Miren runs away, chasing a family secret she stumbled upon in her grandfather’s library, and along the way her path crosses many others, such as a troupe of performers with a surprising act, an imprisoned kelpie, vengeful ghosts, and a hidden village around a lake of salt. She is running not only from the future others have chosen for her, but also from the past she had no say in, as three mer haunt he through her journey, with the cryptic phrase: ‘When you are gone then we will be free.’
The book is narrated in first person by Miren, and she is the one the reader has most contact with – the world and all its other characters are seen through her, but I didn’t find this limiting at all. She is a fascinating character, who manages to be kind as well as independent and self-serving. She is the perfect heroine in a world in which men expect women to simply bow their heads in obedience, and I love her cunning, her story telling, and her little magics.
It’s hard to fully categorise this book, which I have no problem with, but for the purposes of this blog I have labelled it as ‘Fantasy’, which I believe it is also being marketed as. It has the feel of an old folk tale in many ways, though the text itself is full of stories remembered by Miren from the old O’Malley book, which lends to its credibility and pads the world out more. I’m sure that this book will sit on my shelf, whispering its stories to me, and that when I return to its pages once more I will find even more incredible little details that I missed the first time, and I greatly look forward to anything else of this kind that A. G. Slatter might write.
“Though magic’s been repressed in most places, it doesn’t stop things like mer, kelpies, rusalky, trolls and nixies, corpsewights and ghosts from existing. They just hide deeper in the forests and mountains, in lakes and tarns, cellars and mirrors.”