Saturday 28 May 2016

Burned, by Benedict Jacka; and The Stone Book Quartet, by Alan Garner

Burned is the seventh of the Alex Verus novels, featuring a "diviner" (able to see the future) in a magical dimension of modern London, hidden from mundane citizens. I won't go through the background again as I've already reviewed the first six books on this blog. I did comment in my review of the last book, Veiled, that the series seemed to be running out of steam, but Jacka has ramped up the drama this time.

It is normal for someone to want Verus dead, but this time it's the Light Council, the governing body for all of the Light mages; and not just Verus is under sentence of death but his dependents as well; Luna, Anne and Variam.

Verus has just one week to try to prevent the sentence being carried out, but finds little help as he discovers that everyone seems to think he is rejoining his hated old master, the Dark mage Drakh. All of his determination and considerable deviousness seem to be in vain, but the conclusion has a dramatic twist which puts the series onto a new track and has me eagerly awaiting the next episode.

I am slowly working my way through Alan Garner's work, this time focusing on a set of four separate but linked stories (total page count 170). These are closely observed snapshots of episodes in time, set (like so much of his writing) in the real Cheshire countryside in which the author has always lived.

The first of the stories, The Stone Book, concerns a few days in the lives of a stone mason and his daughter in Victorian times. The second, Granny Reardun, is set a generation later, featuring the grandson of the stone mason at a critical point of his young life when he decides on his future. The Aimer Gate comes next and is set a further generation later, during the First World War, with the great-grandson of the mason. The last is Tom Fobble's Day, set in the Second World War, with the fourth generation of young people making their own toboggans to slide down snow-covered hills and collecting fragments of munitions dropped by the Luftwaffe bombers or from the shells of the AA guns which fired on them.

The Stone Book Quartet contains no magical elements, unlike most of Garner's work, but it is nonetheless an example of magical prose. His writing is lyrical and powerfully evocative, full of local customs and folklore and the rhythms of dialect speech, and I was reminded of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, the famous memoir of a Cotswold childhood which is high on any British list of favourite books. The stories may feature children, but they probably appeal more to adults. Simply marvellous, and one to be read again and again.

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