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Monday, July 08, 2013

Black Spring by Alison Croggon. Sydney: Walker Books Australia, 2012

I've only read one of Alison Croggon's novels before, the first Pellinor book. I'm not a fan of the Fat Fantasy Novel genre, but she had such a lovely web site, I couldn't resist. It was not bad, but not interesting enough, to me at least, to tempt me to read further. I know she has a massive fandom, and wish I had half her luck, but I'm not a member of it.

However, I heard about this book, inspired by Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, at the Reading Matters Conference, where the author spoke, and decided to give it a go. I read Wuthering Heights for English Literature at school and was curious to see what this author would make of it, so bought a copy, which will be going into my school library to see what the students make of it.

First, the language: the author has done a very good job of getting that right. It reads pretty much like a nineteenth century book, to my eyes at least.

The story is very similar to the original, with some changes - for example, Lina, the Cathy character, has no older brother and Damek, the Heathcliff of this novel, is related to the king and is imposed on the family. That makes a big difference to the storyline, as you'll see if you read it.

The technology is about the same, but the social structure is somewhat different. The north has its own royal family, which raises money by means of the Vendetta. Only those related to the ruler are exempt. If someone kills a person related to you, you must kill them and, in turn, be killed by someone in that family and, before you go off to commit your murder, you have to drop off some cash at the palace. Entire villages are wiped out because it's compulsory. If the royal coffers are low and nobody has a vendetta going, the king ensures one is started. Oh, and the victim not having a family doesn't prevent vendetta; in this case, the last family who hosted them must avenge the death.

Then there are the wizards, who don't seem to do a lot apart from terrorising villagers and issuing orders. On the other hand, if a girl is born with the violet eyes of a witch, she is killed. Presumably the wizards don't want competition. Lina is a born witch, but the family move south for some years and then are allowed to move back without her destruction.

Interesting as all this is, I'm not sure that the Vendetta, at least, adds anything to the novel, and it doesn't make a lot of sense as a form of taxation. I mean, why wipe out potential taxpayers just to make a quick buck? If the author wanted to have a disaster in the village, a plague would surely have done the trick.

Despite all this, I'm sure the novel will have a lot of fans. It may do well for fantasy fans who aren't ready to try the original. Those readers who, like me, have read the Bronte book, will have the fun of following the storyline and seeing how connected it is to the original. And I have to say that Lina is a somewhat more sympathetic character than Cathy - I have long thought that Cathy and Heathcliff are among fiction's more obnoxious lovers, who thoroughly deserve each other. 

But as a YA novel, it really needs very good readers, the kind who could handle the original, and if they can handle Wuthering Heights, why not give them the original?

 I know I'm hardly in a position to speak, since my own novel is inspired by something written centuries ago! 

But the average student is unlikely to read the Breton Lais, while Wuthering Heights has become a book of interest to teens in recent years, since it was mentioned as Bella Swan's favourite.

Still, it's well worth a read and hopefully, anyone who discovers and enjoys Black Spring first will check out Wuthering Heights, and that can be no bad thing


Lan said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I haven't actually read Bronte so I have nothing to compare it to but I think I already agree with you about the illogical use of the vendetta in this one.

Alison Croggon said...

Hiya - Thanks for reading my book. I don't usually comment on reviews, but on the question of vendetta: the Blood Tax was actually a real thing in Albania (I didn't make it up), and was used by the novelist Ismael Kadare to critique the economic exploitation of the poor. Which is why I used it too.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I read online that she was inspired by the use of vendetta in Albania, which also provides the geography. I suspect, though, that in Albania it's a cultural thing, not something set up to raise money for the rulers. Still, the book is worth a read - why not see if your library has a copy?

Sue Bursztynski said...

Welcome to my blog, Alison!Fascinating to hear about the Albanian Blood Tax, and that there actually was a government that had no problem wiping out taxpayers to raise cash. I still don't think it adds anything to the novel. But that's me. Others might feel that it does say something about the universe you have created.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Sue - just to be clear, I don't question your right to respond to the book however seems right to you! I just wanted to clarify that point. I've changed a few details (wizards, obvs, but also others) but in economic terms, that's pretty much how it worked. And speaking more widely, those with power have never worried overmuch about the deaths of those they exploit, even now.

Sue Bursztynski said...

You know, Alison, we could go on discussing this forever. I'd be happy to offer you a guest post on this blog about the research process you did for this novel or anything else about your writing you'd like to discuss. If you're interested email me (the email address is on the contact bit) - I can't do it the other way, as you don't seem to have any contact details on your own web sites.

Alison Croggon said...

:) If I didn't have five deadlines this month, I might take you up, though it would be more about I thought that detail meant, than about actual research. In the end it's a fantasy novel, so the reality has to work on its own terms, and that's going to differ with every reader. Btw, if you ever want to email, a contact email is on my Theatre Notes blog. Cheers!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Your guest post on anything you like is open any time you wish; I like to support fellow writers. Just email me when ready.