Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Despite lockdown, my book club has valiantly made the switch to Zoom so that we can still talk about what we’re all reading. The meetings are different than normal, and I think the first (for Empire of Sand) was slightly hampered by it having been so long since we’d read the book, but they’re still fun and I genuinely look forward to them when I know they’re coming up. Which makes it extra great that we’re having them once a month now!

Books reflect interests; interests inform personality and personality decides a course of action.

Rotherweird, Andrew Caldecott

Rotherweird was described as ‘English folk horror’, which made me think I’d either love it or hate it. I like folk stories, but as discussed in my review of Dread Nation, I don’t usually read horror. As it turns out, I didn’t love or hate Rotherweird. It was fun and reading it definitely cheered me up more than Scottish Traditional Tales, but it’s not going on my favourites list.

My favourite bit was the coracle race, which I thought was a really cool adventure which also showed a lot of the different characters’ personalities. It reminded me a lot of a Goblin Emperor fanfic that I read by big sunglasses: Passage, which also features a boat race and lots of great exploration of character.

This was nothing compared to the boating he’d done on a docile river, heavily supervised, as a child. He grinned back at her. “Yes, Captain.”

After a few minutes he was in a good rhythm, and when they launched around the Maratha’s curve, he could tell they were improving.

Passage, Bigsunglasses

There was no character development as such in Rotherweird. The characters were more… quirky, almost caricatures, with no sign that they were going to grow into anything else. Which is fine, because the book was more about the mystery than about the characters’ interior lives. What struck me as odd was how passive the characters were. Oblong, in particular, seemed curiously willing to obey the rules and not investigate the central mystery. Which is not exactly what one is used to in fiction!

Anyway, Midsummer Day features the most dismal act in the academic calendar: prize giving, an exercise that puffs up the already conceited and depresses everybody else – and I include the parents.

Rotherweird, Andrew Caldecott

I finished Rotherweird not entirely certain I fully understood everything. There were certain things, like who Gregorious Jones actually was, that I was sure I’d worked out at one point only to have forgotten. And then there were things that were probably meant to be left unanswered to give Andrew Caldecott something to write about in the sequel. So it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good murder mystery, but I’ve heard good things about the sequel so perhaps that’s not something that should hold anyone back from reading this.

As editor of a puzzle magazine, I have to give a shout-out to the inclusion of crossword clues and crossword creating. You don’t get to see that too often in media: the only examples I can think of are All About Steve (which is ludicrously unrealistic) and The Imitation Game. Rotherweird didn’t do anything egregiously wrong, so I’ll give it the crossword-editor seal of approval!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Scottish Traditional Tales edited by A.J. Bruford and D.A. MacDonald — New Review

Scottish Traditional Tales was a gift from my Auntie Carol, who I mentioned in my Rob Roy review. Three of my grandparents were Scottish, so although I’ve never lived there, I have an interest in the songs and stories. I dove into Scottish Traditional Tales without a very clear idea of what I would find. And what a wild ride it turned out to be!

‘That cannot be,’ said the king, and he went to bed, and he ate not a bite, and he drank not a drop: and if the day came early, the king rose earlier than that, and went to the hill to hunt.

Lasair Gheug, the King of Ireland’s Daughter, Mrs MacMillan

Relatively few of the stories were familiar to me, and even the ones that were tended to come with unexpected twists. I recognised selkies and brownies, but it took a little longer for me to realise that Lasair Gheug was a version of Snow White where the seven dwarves have been replaced by twelve cats and a trout in a well takes the place of the magic mirror. I liked that in Ceanne Suic — a take on Rumplestiltskin — the woman who has to guess Ceann Suic’s name had already been threatened with the loss of her firstborn. It made her seem a lot more level-headed than the woman who promises her first child to escape a lie that had got out of hand.

An when he went oot the door, this auld woman started stamping her feet an cursin, ‘who told him aboot the witch’s knots in her hair? Who told him about that black cat? An who told them aboot the raven’s feathers? And who told them that I’d turned her feet tae the door?’ she says.

The Broonie, Betsy Whyte

Even if the stories themselves weren’t familiar to me: there were bits of them that were. The Broonie, for example, it a much more working class version of a story I’m familiar with in folksong.

Says ‘who was it who undid the nine witch knots
Braided in amongst this lady’s locks?
And who was it who the leather shoe untied
From the left foot of his wedded bride?
And who was it split the silken thread
The spider stretched all beneath this lady’s bed?
The spider stretched all beneath her bed.’

Willie’s Lady, Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer

It was fun to see little bits and pieces of things that I do know sprinkled in amongst the unfamiliar. This is definitely a collection I’d like to come back to. I think a lot of the stories would only improve with increasing familiarity!

Rating: 3 out of 5.