Monday, April 13, 2015

"The Silver Witch": Review by Tahlia Merrill

"The Silver Witch" 

Review by Tahlia Merrill

We will be interviewing the author of The Silver Witch, Paula Brackston, TOMORROW, TUESDAY APRIL 14th, on her virtual book tour, and we'll also be having a GIVEAWAY!
Psst - if you love Celtic stories with that unique blend of natural and Otherworld, past and present, then this is likely a book for you.
Enter the giveaway (details tomorrow) for a chance to add it to your fairy tale library!

Jacket description: 

A year after her husband's sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat's death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her - a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she's near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda's grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake's ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each other's, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren's prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.

The Silver Witch is steeped in a mythic and mysterious Welsh landscape, blending historical fiction with contemporary fantasy, to take you on a journey shared by two women, who, despite living in very different times, need each other to find their way. 

This is my first time reading this New York Times bestselling author's work, so while I can't say how representative it is of her usual style, I can tell you Brackston handles the ambitious premise with aplomb. I thoroughly enjoyed the dual-narrative structure that alternated between one woman’s modern journey of self-discovery and another’s unraveling of ancient court intrigue.

The narrative is split between two women, divided by hundreds of years, but connected by the same mysterious lake in Wales. Modern day Tilda has always feared water and can’t shake the uneasy feeling surrounding her new lakeside home. On the other side of time, Seren is a respected female shaman receiving alarming visions of her village’s future. Even though the two women never meet, their fates are inextricably woven together.

Much like the wild magic of fairy tale forests, Silver Witch’s lake symbolizes great power, but also great danger. Seren is confident in her abilities and embraces the water as a source of strength. In fact, her ancient Celtic village has even built their dwellings—known as crannogs—in the middle of the lake (see picture). When Tilda moves near it, a power awakens inside her that she has avoided her whole life (it’s telling that her favorite hobby is running). Her journey is one of self-discovery.

Just like every forest has its wolves, Silver Witch’s lake has its monster lurking in its depths. If you’ve never heard of the Afanc, let me share what I learned from a quick wikipedia perusal (yes, I know, how horribly unscholarly of me)…

The Afanc, sometimes called The Addanc, is a lake monster that shows up throughout Celtic folklore. It’s as elusive as the  Loch Ness Monster, but sometimes it looks like a beaver, but other times it’s reported to take crocodile or dwarf form (no clue what’s terrifying about a beaver...maybe the tail?). It even makes an appearance in a version of Arthurian legend where the knight Percival slays an invisible poison-dart-shooting Afanc. I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t discuss how Brackston involves the creature, but she certainly puts her own twist on it.

Despite the many strong points mentioned, Silver Witch has its weaknesses. Brackston writes Tilda’s story in third person present—a bold choice that never quite settled comfortably for me. In contrast, the first person present voice used for Seren’s narration feels natural and confident, much like the character herself. Stylistic choices aside, though, if you’ve never explored the era in Celtic history where the established Druid traditions are being reconciled with incoming Christianity, The Silver Witch gives you a great taste of that conflict. For a light introduction to Celtic history, wrapped in an introspective adventure, definitely consider trying The Silver Witch.
Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the book was provided by Thomas Dunne Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tahlia Merrill is Editor of Timeless Tales Magazine, and an official partner of Once Upon A Blog.

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