Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins, linked stories about a Dorset village's ancient, mystical history

Many of the world’s mystical places have remained so for centuries, even millennia. In this absorbing collection, the authors present seven stories, all linked through their setting of Cerne Abbas, a village in Dorset, which is home to an ancient wishing well and a giant (and well-endowed) hill-figure sculpted into the chalk countryside. The folk beliefs of the region play a strong role in each story, each of which is extraordinarily attuned to its era while evoking the timelessness of human emotions: protectiveness, jealousy, hope, fear, and love.

The book opens in the present day, with Rosie Brightwell, an Australian woman, visiting her grandparents’ English birthplace after a messy breakup. The subsequent tales progressively lead further back in time, detailing the lives of earlier Brightwells and their lovers, neighbors, and adversaries, and finally conclude with the remainder of Rosie’s story. It’s hard to pick a favorite!

“My Sister’s Ghost” is a suspenseful Victorian ghost story suffused with grief and desperation, and with a delightful child narrator. In “The True Confession of Obedience-to-God Ashe,” full of devilish twists, a Puritan parson’s spiteful daughter uses the well’s power to achieve her desire. Set in 999 AD, a time of panic and prophecy, “The End of Everything” tells of the gentle love between an unlikely couple.

“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter” is a well-crafted Tudor mystery told against the backdrop of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Perhaps the most moving is “The Blessing,” which sees a young woman reacting to the devastation of World War II. And “The Giant” shows the villagers in 44 AD, preparing for the expected Roman incursion in different ways.

The stories are tinged with supernatural happenings. This is a satisfying, multi-dimensional read for anyone who likes pondering history’s deep and intricate layers.

The Silver Well was published in 2017 by Australia's Ticonderoga Press. This review, published also in February's Historical Novels Review, was based on a personal purchase. The book is available in paperback ($21.99 US, $30 in Australia) and ebook ($5.99 US).

This is also my first entry for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Hopefully I'll do better this year than last.  I'll try the Stella level, reading four and reviewing three.


  1. Lovely review. Thank you.

  2. Two wonderful writers! Kim Wilkins is one I mainly know as a horror novelist, plus she has done a bit of YA with a heroine not unlike Buffy, but I have difficulty keeping up with all of Kate Forsyth’s books. I’m currently in the middle of her Pre-
    Raphaelite novel.
    Ticonderoga is a fine Aussie small press that I hope stays around for a long time.

    1. Ticonderoga is a press I wasn't familiar with until this book. I'll have to look at their list more thoroughly.

      I've enjoyed several of the novels Kim Wilkins wrote as Kimberley Freeman - likewise Kate Forsyth's Bitter Greens, and her Eileanan novels which I read so long ago!

  3. Great review, I'll be checking this one out. I am mentioning your review in the AWW speculative fiction round-up this week.