Sunday, 31 January 2010


Although I quietly decided I wouldn't do any more book reviews, I'm going to make an exception for The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh. But first I'm going to admit to a prejudice: I don't much like fantasy books.

By which I mean what is sometimes referred to as 'High Fantasy'. For example, give me the tale of Headnod the Earnest and his perilous quest to save the Glens of La-di-da from the return of Nameless Evil, and I'll have to give it back because I'm pretty sure I read this book when I was sixteen and don't need to read it again. I mean no disrespect to Tolkien – his writing is timeless – but much that has come in his wake leaves me cold. So no elves and dwarves please, no pointy-hatted wizards, and above all, no wands or spells or anything else that reduces magic to some kind of mechanistic other-science. Like I said, it's a prejudice.

The Crowfield Curse is in many ways a fantasy tale, so if it had been promoted as such, my prejudice may have stopped me from buying it. Instead, it presents as historical fiction with an intriguing supernatural twist. I couldn't get it to the till fast enough. And it is a historical novel -- the author is an archaeologist and has conjured a convincing picture of life in a fourteenth century monastery. There's even a glossary of terms in the back. But the amazing thing about this book is the way Pat Walsh has managed to combine history and fantasy so seamlessly -- a glittering blend of stark medieval Christianity and ancient pagan forces. By the time I realised I was in pointy hat territory, I didn't care at all.

I believe that suspension of disbelief is a compliment paid by the reader in exchange for good writing, not something a writer should take for granted from the outset. This is no doubt my problem with Headnod and co – I want to be drawn into magical realms, not flung straight in. Pat Walsh, with her charming tale of a poor serving boy who befriends a fay being and is pulled into a struggle over the grave of something that cannot die, certainly deserves that compliment from me.

And this is the kind of writing I aspire to -- seemingly simple, yet closely controlled and vivid. The kind of writing that wastes nothing, that can ignore genres and side-step prejudice. The kind of writing that makes you forget you're reading at all. That's real magic.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh was published in 2010 by The Chicken House, and is recommended for anyone over about ten years old. And just look at that lovely cover!


  1. Sounds fantastic; I'll seek that one out. I can see why you didn't fancy reading Hedge Witch though!

  2. Simon, I think you'll really enjoy this book.

    Actually, I rather liked the sound of Hedge Witch. The fact that a school girl from our world is drawn into another appeals to me. It's how the wardrobe moment is handled that makes or breaks my belief in Narnia, not Narnia itself.

  3. The cover is cool. I like the blend of stark medieval Christianity and ancient pagan forces.

    Pointy hat territory:)

  4. I think my daughter will like this in a year or two - she is into fantasy but she's into everything else in equal measure, too, including historical and especially ghost stories at the moment! She loved The Graveyard Book. She'll be nine in a month or so and I think this will be in her Christmas stocking.

    Personally, anything with a slightly dubious sounding protagonist's name and I've got the critical dagger out. I'm more interested in the magic of this world, past and present, but I would give anything a go. What I really hate though is when a character is from, say, Cambridge, for want of a location, and is called something like Aragrithinial just because the story is set a few years in the future - people have been called Bob and Isabel for hundreds of years, names are not going to radically change! I'd much rather a Sarah go wandering through wormholes - that I'd believe far more than Aragrithinial wandering around Cambridge in 2050! Just keeping it real :)

  5. First, I'll forgive Rachel for mentioning Christmas in January. Next, since I tend to share your (and her) attitude to fantasy, your review's enough for me to give this one a try. Genre doesn't matter when the writing holds the reader as much as this obviously did you.

  6. Thanks Terry, Rachel and Bill

    I suppose I should just point out that I am in no way associated with this book or the Chicken House. I just want to share a great read, that's all.

    Yes, silly names don't help. I started reading a very successful recent fantasy book last week but I lost interest too soon to finish it. The names were a real turnoff.

  7. I love how you describe generic fantasy. Priceless. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Thanks, Anita.

    Hey, why didn't anyone tell me I'd spelt Tolkien wrong? Perhaps my 'spell'checker didn't like the rude things I said about fantasy...

  9. That review has really made me want to read this book, I've just got to stop myself pressing the Amazon button! Personally the moment with Lucy in the wardrobe when she pushes past the old fur coats - and you can SMELL the mothballs - and feels the cold air and the snow is my number one children's fantasy moment. I felt exactly the same re-reading it a couple of years ago as I did when I discovered it as a child.


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