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I am what could quite easily be described as a fairly indiscriminate, voracious reader. Basically,
if it has a story line I will quite happily pursue it, regardless of genre. I read Cecilia
Dart-Thornton's first trilogy about a year ago, and was pleasantly surprised by its dark drama,
very twisted plot lines, and not entirely happy ending (shan't say any more incase I spoil it for
Whilst randomly bumbling about on Amazon, I was pleased to discover that she is attempting a
second trilogy, and immediately got myself a copy of the first volume of it. The synopsis on the
back cover was much lighter than that of her first works, but I thought to myself that if she could
manage to entertain me as much with her second load of books as she did with the first I would
be very happy to read a happier story. Possibly whatever angst she was carrying around with her
managed to be incorporated into her first lot of novels leaving room for a nicer, chirpier style.
Don't get me wrong - I wasn't expecting comedy, although in places that is just what this book
provides, although I'm not entirely sure whether this is accidental or on purpose.
Despite the maxim "don't judge a book by it's cover", in the name of reviewing an item entirely,
that's where I'm going to begin..
The cover art for this novel is uncoincidentally, very similar to that of her other novels. The
greenery gives the whole a very organic feel, reminiscent of the swamplands where the main
character ends up, whilst the central picture glows with the burnt oranges and browns of the
desert where the story begins. Under the title (written in green to contrast with the nice bluey
sky), a lone rider sits astride a horse, staring out at what could, with a little stretch of the
imagination, be considered the horizon. Meet the main character, Jarred. His hair is the colour
of cardamom, and occasionally has colour so rich that it flows like gravy (oh yep! she does say
that), all the village maidens find him irresistible, and he has lots of friends. What colour is
cardamom exactly? I always thought they were kind of grey but the blokey on the front colour
doesn't seem to have grey hair... or green for that matter, they're sometimes green too aren't they?
Anyway, please excuse my unasked for moment of frivolity... (his hair's like gravy!! Gravy! Will
have to find the page number so you can have a look but really, honestly, she does say that). So
welcome to the cover.
Oo the title of this section is evocative. Being a nice brand new book, it still smells papery and
new. I managed to read this one without dropping it in the bath, which makes a change as its one
of my favourite places to read. At the very beginning of the book is a glossary, informing the
reader about the names of the various seelie and unseelie wights inhabiting the pages of the book,
and the pronunciation thereof. So far so good. Always better to know how to say things before
reading about them, as it saves the effort and embarrassment of having to bleep over the names
as you read them. There is then a pretty map, followed by the introduction, which is written by
an unknown chronicler. All very traditional, although most books put the glossary at the back. I
sense your patience is waning, and so I will go to probably the most important part of the review,
skipping over the pretty leaf designs at the top of the pages and the references at the back. These
you will never learn about from this review!
I know this section has a similar title to the last, but in the last I was talking about the physical
aspects rather than the plot, characterisation and such like.
The story goes like this - Jarred is born in the desert. When he was a little boy (and not the big,
strong, handsome, gravy haired man he is now), his father left the village. His father was not a
village man, but a wandering chap who had come to visit and never managed to leave. Before he left
he gave Jarred an amulet, telling him that this would keep him safe from any kind of harm.
Jarred duly grows up, safe from the various hauntings and earthquakes that his fellow villagers
suffer, and one day decides to leave town. He kisses his mum farewell, takes the packed lunch
she made for him, an assortment of bells and charms and goes off with a gang of childhood
friends to make his fortune.
Sometime later, he arrives in the swamp lands, falls for a girl (Lilith - a nice archetypal name if
ever I saw one)leaves the village, gets set upon by bandits, and then loses a wager with one of his
friends involving the accuracy of his stone slinging, which then frees him to return to the village
to court and marry Lilith.
And they all should live happily ever after.... but DO THEY??
Nope, I shan't tell you... I'm not going to reveal any more of the plot line than is strictly necessary
to put together a coherent review. For example if I said, "well, I'm not going to tell you what this
book is about cos then you'd know what it was about and wouldn't need to read it" that would just
be silly as you wouldn't have any idea of whether the book was good or bad and you wouldn't
bother to read it anyway. I will however, give you an amazing show of self restraint and tell you
to read it if you want more.
Here we get to the crux of the problem. Here is a woman who has spent years and years
researching folklore, written down her research in no particular order, shuffled it up a bit for
good measure, typed it all out in bits and pieces and then tried to put together lots of bits of
storyline in the middle to try to join them all up. In places it really works, the underlying
mythology helps her to design a magical world, where football exists along side fairies of various
dispositions, where druids act like tax men and the aristocracy is nicely corrupt. In others, it
creates quite pointless loose ends, for example, when Jarred is a teenager, he goes off after a
football game to find a spy glass that his friends left behind in the grass. He finds it just before
darkness falls, and in his haste to get home before the fairies come out and his mother starts
worrying (despite the magical amulet) he takes a short cut home over a haunted bridge. At this
stage you may be thinking - worried about fairies so he goes for ghosts instead.. hmmm... logic?
Anyway, young Jarred gets attacked on his way across the bridge by a wight of some sort which
hangs onto him with its skeletal arms and then disappears when he reaches the village. For the
rest of the book I found myself looking out for what had happened to the beastie from the bridge
and trying to find the place in the plot where the reason for this strange happening would crop up
and all would tie in. It wasn't there! There are similar beasties which do equally meaningless (in
the grand scale of the plot line) things. There is also the way her descriptions involve food stuffs.
This I find quite bizarre and a little disturbing, but she is consistent in this - it does continue
throughout the book.
Jarred is possibly a little too good to be true, but then so is Lilith (until Things Happen), the
storyline which is at first fairy tale like and simple begins to swirl and twist and turn in a very
satisfying fashion later in the book, the majority of characters are well written, well portrayed and
likeable. The scenery is fantastic, as are the various characters (i.e., wights and ghosts and
brownies) that inhabit it and make it what it is. I liked the ending too.
All in all an enjoyable read if you can make it through the first part, with its weirdly disjointed
feel. Its almost as though Cecilia Dart-Thornton is a bit out of practice when she starts but then
manages to get back into the swing of things once she's got all that rambling on out of her
system. Either that or she's in such a desperate hurry to portray the surrounding world and build
up her characters that in the first couple of hundred pages she forgets the need for a storyline.
My advice would be to ignore the food analogies and persevere with the pointless happenings
what crop up now and then. Grab the story by the throat, give it a good shake to put it in its place
and by the end of all this persevering, you will hopefully be quite happy with the resulting
In the spirit of the ending I have one last thing to say.....who would WANT to have hair like
gravy? Thick and slimy and smelling of beef? No thanks!
After her highly acclaimed 'Bitterbynde' trilogy comes the breathtaking first volume in The Crowthistle Chronicles Jarred, recently come of age, is leaving the sun-scorched desert village that has always been his home. He sets out with a band of friends to see the mighty and beautiful kingdom of the north and to seek out the truth about his father, who came to the village a stranger and departed when Jarred was ten, never to return. After the travellers are set upon in a ravine and several of their number sustain injuries, they seek shelter in the Marsh of Slievmordhu - a cool green world of dazzling beauty as different from their homeland as night and day. Here Jarred meets Lilith, and in a single moment he realizes that his life can never be the same again. But neither of the young lovers is aware how closely linked their fates - and their past - really are. During a visit to Cathair Rua, the Red City, Jarred stumbles across the secret of the Iron Tree, and with it an unbearable truth about his father's identity.