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!