In the self-congratulatory Grá mo Chroí spree of the last week, lots of things have gone out the window. I don’t count housework or even real work. One of the important things that didn’t get done was posting my reviews of Harriet Goodchild’s short stories.
They are just as much a Valentine’s Day read as Grá mo Chroí and very much in the same broad style. Although they are set in a fantasy world that seems to me to be more vibrant than our own, Harriet’s stories are very firmly rooted in the world of Scottish folk ballads. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Have just been to get the links and find both these volumes are absolutely FREE! You’d have to be mad not to get your copy now!
I was lucky enough to be offered an ARC of these stories, and there is only one word to describe them: beautiful. In the purest of pure story-telling tradition, Harriet Goodchild has filled a fantasy world of her own creation with the light and landscape of the hills of the northlands. The word images recur like the refrain of a ballad, and some of them are miniature gems of poetry.
The world is a northern Europe, could be the Scottish Highlands, Ireland, or Scandinavia, and the time is the time of stories, with echoes of the Bronze Age, the Viking conquests, and the early Middle Ages. Don’t try and pinpoint anything exactly, this is fantasy, fairy tale, and song.
The language is the language of poetry, using words to paint images that are so vivid the reader feels the wind, sees the glitter of starlight and the waves rolling on the strand. There is a great sense of the movement of the natural world here, the sun, the stars, the seasons turning, the cycles of life.
The stories treat the great themes: love in all its forms, loss, and longing; and because there is great love there is also intense hatred. Every one of these tales is beautifully crafted like an early illumination. The characters are kings and courtiers, fishermen and fishwives, those who live by the sea, on the sea, and in the sea. And the best thing of all is that this world of sea and starlight is a glimpse of the world of Harriet Goodchild’s first novel, which is promised for later this spring. The best, as they say, is yet to come.
The two stories contained in this volume are set in the same world as Tales from the Later Lands. The setting is the more hushed and refined atmosphere of an urban aristocracy. There are still gardens and roses, but the tone is set by Allocco and his distance, his reserve, and his dignity. Taccola, the girl chosen to be his new wife is a child, unknowing and unformed except to obey, which she does, to begin with, and life is peaceful and full of roses. As happens in the happiest of arranged marriages, love unfolds pale and pure as the thornless, scentless roses Allocco offers his young bride. But Taccola is young and she has never been allowed to find out for herself the difference between love and desire.
What happens when the two become confused leads to the second story. Years later when Allocco is dead, we return to a more mature, but equally melancholy Taccola, learning this time what it feels like to be the mother of an estranged son who enters her life as a young man, when she never thought to see him again. Roses and gardens again, and stories and quiet. These two stories are perfection.