Alison Croggon – Black Spring

alisoncroggon-blackspringIn a savage land sustained by wizardry and ruled by vendetta, Lina is the enchanting but willful daughter of a village lord. She and her childhood companion, Damek, have grown up privileged and spoiled, and they’re devoted to each other to the point of obsession. But Lina’s violet eyes betray her for a witch, and witches are not tolerated in a brutally patriarchal society. Her rank protects her from persecution, but it cannot protect her from tragedy and heartbreak. An innocent visitor stands witness to the devastation that ensues as destructive longing unleashes Lina’s wrath, and with it her forbidden power. Whether drawn by the romantic, the magical, or the gothic, readers will be irresistibly compelled by the passion of this tragic tale.

Inspired by the gothic classic Wuthering Heights, this stunning new fantasy from the author of the Books of Pellinor is a fiercely romantic tale of betrayal and vengeance.

Ah, Wuthering Heights, the single novel written by the second Miss Brontë, the poet Emily. Perhaps the most passionate of all the Brontë sisters, her contribution to the canon of English Literature both shocked and intrigued her contemporaries. And while it’s still a beloved and much-read work, when I first attempted it in my teens, I found it a hard book to get into and it was only on my second attempt when I was at university that I actually managed to get through it and appreciate the story contained within its covers. As my recent review of Longbourn has shown I quite enjoy retellings of classic works and since Wuthering Heights is such a rich source to mine for inspiration, when I saw Alison Croggon’s Black Spring described as inspired by this classic, I jumped at the chance to review it.    

Unfortunately, my reading experience with Black Spring rather mirrored my reading experience of Wuthering Heights. I had a really hard time getting into this book and actually care for its protagonists. Perhaps this is due to the structure of the book—Black Spring is divided into four parts and an epilogue and it resembles the narrative progression of its inspiration starting with the visiting gentleman’s visit to Damek (a.k.a. Heathcliff) at his farm and his seeing the ghost of Lina (a.k.a. Cathy), to his getting laid up in bed and the housekeeper telling him the ill-fated love between Damek and Lina. It diverges here however, as some of the characters from Wuthering Heights aren’t here and events take a different turn. But this is also the place where I finally got drawn into the book. Anna’s voice drew me in far more than Hammel’s did and I mostly stopped trying to make comparison between the two books and just sunk into the story Croggon tells.

The characters in the book are interesting. Lina is a strange creature, a witch-born waif, who’s happier roaming the wild country of her birth than being a proper lady. She’s also rather unpredictable: sweet and kind one moment, cruel, manipulative, and wilful the next. She’s a troubled girl, who grows into a troubled woman, especially when she’s around Damek. Unkind and spiteful, she isn’t the world’s most likeable or sympathetic protagonist. She’s also haunted by her magical nature, which usually is an automatic death sentence for a woman of the Northlands. Her words carry power and Lina knows how to word and carry a grudge. But Lina isn’t the only unlikeable character, Damek is just as bad. He’s unfathomable, obsessive, and possessive and really rather scary. Then there are the Wizard Ezra and Lord Masko, who takes over Lina’s father’s estate after his death, who are both awful in their abuse of power and in Masko’s case also in his dissolute ways. In fact, I think the only sympathetic characters in the book are Anna and her mother, and Lina’s husband Tibor. They at least behave in a sympathetic and rational manner and try to do well by others.

What I absolutely loved about this book was its setting and its world building. Skilfully transposed from the bleak moors to the just as bleak highlands, the world the characters inhabit is hard, harsh and desolate, but also sweeping and beautiful. In addition to the setting, Croggon also developed a fascinating, if frightening, society in which honour killings and blood vendettas regularly depopulate entire villages and where the only power that can stop a vendetta from consuming more lives is that of the wizards. The relentlessness and futility of these blood feuds were conveyed strongly through the narrative and the emotions of the affected characters and I could really feel the resigned despair of the men who knew they would be the next to die for their family’s honour. Despite the obvious presence of magic in the world, we actually see relatively few occasions of actual magic performed. Off the top of my head there are only a handful of occasions where magic feats are witnessed or spoken of in the entire book. This sparse use of magic makes the times that we do see it on the page have more of an impact and it also fit really well with not just the situation of our characters, but also with the view of magic in the Northlands.

In the end, I wasn’t as blown away by Black Spring as I was with that other retelling I recently read, but then I’ve always been more of an Austen girl than a Brontë one. Still, once past that first part that gave me so much trouble, Black Spring turned into quite an enjoyable read; one that those who love darker fantasy would enjoy.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.