Book Review: The Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

I’m delighted to share my latest review. I’m a fan of this author after reading a previous work, A Single Light, which inducted me into Urban Fantasy. Her latest, Keeper of the Way (Crossing the Line Book 1), is historical urban fantasy.

 

“After news of grave robbing and murder in Dún Ringall, the ancient stronghold of Clan McKinnon on the Isle of Skye, Rosalie realises it is time to share her family’s secrets. Descendants of the mystical Ethne M’Kynnon, Rosalie tells of a violent rift that occurred centuries earlier, splitting Ethne from her sisters forever and causing relentless anguish and enmity between ancient families.
Meanwhile, Algernon and Clement Benedict have arrived in Sydney searching for the lost relics of their family. They are driven by revenge and a thirst for power, and will take what they can to reinstate their family heritage. Their meddling with ancient magic will have far-reaching effects, as they fail to realise ther role in a far greater quest.
In the grounds of Sydney’s magnificent Garden Palace, danger grows as an ages-old feud of queens and goddesses heats up. The discovery of arcane symbols bring the distant past in a foreign land to Australia and will cause a profound struggle with tragic results, a surprising new recruit from an unknown world, and the complete destruction of the palace.
Set around stories and characters in 1882 Sydney, Keeper of the Way includes current affairs, people and buildings long gone, and gives a voice to people history doesn’t always listen to.”

My thoughts:

From the opening scenes, Leslie takes the reader back to the ancient customs of the Scottish highlands while making full use of Scotland’s tempestuous weather as Lord Algernon Benedict sets off for the Isle of Skye to find out what happened to his great-grandfather who disappeared after reaching the shores of Loch Slapin. Three decades later, in Sydney in 1879, Rosalie Ponsonby wanders through The Garden Palace in the Botanical Gardens on the eve of an international exhibition. There she pauses to observe the statue of Queen Victoria. She’s the proprietor of The Garden Arms and she’s a witch.

Much of the action plays out in the The Garden Arms. Here, Leslie creates a homey feel, female and strong. The story unfolds from multiple viewpoints, the reader sharing in the perspectives of Algernon, his son Clement, Rosalie and her daughter, Florentine. All the characters, major and minor, are well-crafted and convincing. The pace is slow but never falters. Sydney in the late 1800s is brought to life with evocative and sharply crafted descriptions. The writing style suits the era yet avoids flowery writing or laboured sentences.

“The Botanical Gardens were a forest of trees and shrubbery, drawn from England and forced into a lifetime of servitude on the other side of the world where winter was as summer in their homeland.”

Through such prose Leslie provides a portrait of the emergence of Australian society in Sydney, a bustling southern city delightfully tinged with decadence, receiving waves of migrants as its indigenous population is thrust aside. Leslie handles this transition with sensitivity and insight.

Descriptions of fantastical transfigurations are portrayed with equal finesse. The reader is lured into magical realism, the transfixed observer. Grimoires, incantations, invocations, sigils and demonic spirits infuse the historical narrative, as the ancient ways of witchcraft – healing and life-giving – are pitted against a male counterpart that is dark and destructive.

In all, Keeper of the Way is a pleasurable read from start to finish. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, magic realism and urban fantasy alike.

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A pot pourri of bookish things

It’s been a busy weekend of A Perfect Square book promotion. So I thought I’d gather it all together in a single post, for those interested in following my blog tour or finding out more about me and the story behind my story.

A perfect square

The weekend kicked off with a Q&A on Amanda Howard’s book blog, Killing Time.

Janet Emson of From First to Last Page book blog then features a piece on my writing process, called My Devilish Muse, and includes a short extract of A Perfect Square.

Fictive Dream published my flash fiction piece, Margo’s Slippers, and I’m really proud to find my story amongst those of so many fine writers.

To cap it all off, author Patricia Leslie, posted on her website her stunning review of A Perfect Square. Praise doesn’t come any better than this:

“Reading Isobel Blackthorn’s stories is like engaging in high calibre wordplay. The words wash over you, move through you, and lift you intellectually.” 

A Single Light by Patricia Leslie

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With A Single Light Patricia Leslie melds city grit and ethereal myth, the twin demands of Urban Fantasy, to form a perfect unity. The plot is simple, a good and evil battle to save humanity from extinction. Yet there is nothing simple in its execution, Leslie demonstrating both a depth of knowledge of her subject and writerly finesse.

Protagonist Rick Hendry, along with a federal agent, a doctor, an archeologist and a journalist, are thrust into a realm of angels and ghouls through a spate of mysterious deaths and disappearances in suburbs surrounding one of Sydney’s natural parklands. They are joined by a Hunter, one of the Afflur whose eternal task is to protect humanity from the evil Bledray. On the face of it, scarcely a unique tale, but as with most stories that comply with the strictures of genre fiction, the originality is all in the telling.

Urban Fantasy is a blend of crime and fantasy fiction. In A Single Light, Leslie displays mastery of both genres. As I was reading, I could imagine the author producing a fabulous crime novel one moment, an epic fantasy tale the next. Yet A Single Light also contains elements of horror, the reader forgiven for sensing echoes of Stephen King. It’s a fair comparison, Leslie’s storytelling, imbued with a mounting dread, and her detailed depictions of the acts of the Bledray, easily sit inside the horror genre, the quality of writing, fairly compared to King’s.

“A shift in the light; shadows moving across the room, horrendous and distorted, and then settling into a more recognisable form as they reached the windows. The curtains dropped as the window closed. The back door opened with a creak and the shadows left. Only the fan kept moving, blowing warm air and a trail of dust around the room, back and forth back and forth …”

Leslie’s characters are well-crafted and come alive on the page with all their foibles. Equally so, the otherworldly figures, the Afflur and the Bledray. Each shift in perspective clearly defined. Each scene carefully crafted.

“At once her whole form relaxed, hair-neat and pulled back in the cab of the truck-escaped its bonds to caress her shoulders, bright eyes became tired and lined, tight lips softened into a tanned face well-used to travelling at the whim of a hooked thumb and a driver’s caprice.”

The narrative is well-paced, the reader carried along by the dramatic tension established from the first page. A perfect mix of action and introspection, held together with vivid descriptions, never overdone, enshroud the reader in a reality so convincing, the very existence of A Single Light’s fantasy figures endures beyond the page.

Leslie’s prose is commensurate with the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, which demands both the earthy realism of crime and the imaginative transcendence of fantasy. It’s a fine balance, one that Leslie achieves with flair. The voice is unselfconscious, mature and poised, absent the pretensions of over-adornment, or the stilted prose the result of an overuse of Occam’s razor, one that plonks the reader in an emotional desert. Evident in Leslie’s writing, is a balance of sophistication and simplicity that will satisfy those after a work of substance while remaining immediately accessible to the page turner reader.

ODYSSEY BOOKS, FEB 2016