Parallels between them are drawn early on, since they share much in common: their unusual pale looks, their living alone, and their mysterious talents (honored and feared in the case of one of them; raw and uncontrolled in the other, at least as the novel begins).
Seren is a witch and shaman who uses her powers to serve Prince Brynach, whose royal palace sits atop a small crannog, or man-made island, in the lake’s center. The setting is nebulous at first: descriptions of Seren’s wolf-pelt headdress, her visions, and other pagan practices call to mind some ancient Celtic past. The images Seren sees predict betrayal and danger for Brynach, but she has doubters - including Brynach himself, who can’t imagine a traitor in his midst.
Her modern counterpart is Tilda Fordwells, an accomplished sculptor whose plan to begin her married life near Llangors Lake crumbled after Mat’s sudden death in a car accident. Now, living by herself in what would have been their dream cottage, she notices strange things, like electrical failures wherever she goes, visions of people from the past, and an odd sensation about an archaeological dig happening nearby.
As Seren’s tale becomes more historically centered, with details eventually anchoring itself in the early 10th century, Tilda’s tale takes progressively more supernatural turns. It makes for a creative blend, and as the stories continue, the women’s connections become more obvious.
The title partly refers to the women's silver-blond hair, a result of their albinism. The fact that both have "special powers" is a bit cliché, although they aren't the only characters to have magical abilities. Also, in contrast to stereotypically negative portrayals (like in The Da Vinci Code), the novel provides a sympathetic depiction of this oft-misunderstood condition. In the case of Tilda, for example, it’s explained how her albinism meets with uncomfortable stares and makes her eyes sensitive to light.
In parts, The Silver Witch calls to mind The Mists of Avalon for its mystical lakeside atmosphere, and James Long’s Ferney for its sense of the inescapable past. Although it’s neither Arthurian nor a reincarnation story, admirers of both books would do well to check it out.
While some supernatural aspects feel over the top, and the portent-heavy prologue feels unnecessary, it succeeds in evoking people’s deep ties to a place and creatively imagines a lesser-known historical episode – one found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The plot couldn’t legitimately take place anywhere else, and like all good historical fiction, fantastical or otherwise, it should spur readers to learn more about the place that inspired it.
|Llangors Crannog, public domain photo|
The Silver Witch is published by Thomas Dunne in April in hardcover ($25.99, Can$29.99). Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC. For your chance to win a copy of your own, fill out the form below. If the winner is based in the US, the publisher will supply the copy; if outside the US, I'll send you mine. Deadline Friday, April 10th.
The giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Kathy W! Please reply within the next week to claim your book.