Monday, September 20

The Crowfield Curse

by Pat Walsh 
Chicken House / Scholastic 2010 


The arrival of a mysterious stranger to a medieval abbey draws an orphan boy into a battle between forces in the Old Magic realm searching out an angel for their own purposes.  

I'm going to ask for leniency up front for those of you better versed in fantasy.  It isn't a place I go to often so forgive any naivety or genre transgressions on my part. 

When his parents were lost to dark forces in a fire, young will was apprenticed to a nearby abbey for his upbringing.  One day while gathering wood he comes upon a hob stuck in an animal trap.  Secreting the hob back to the abbey for care two things become clear: Will has the gift of sight as few humans can see fay folk, and Brother Snail who Will brings the hob to shares this gift as well, which makes him an odd person to find in a Christian brotherhood.  While the hob mends and Will goes about his business a mysterious gentleman named Jacobus Bone arranges to spend some time at the abbey.  Though Bone is a leper the abbey could use the money he is willing to give them to be put up for a spell, and it is more than coincidence that has brought them to this part of the country; many years earlier an angel appeared to fend off an evil force, was killed, and rumored to be buried nearby.  Soon Will, the hob, Bone and his manservant Shadlock are enmeshed in a in a race to locate the angel before darker forces of the forest do and bring evil to the land. 

Now, if you were to ask me if I wanted to read a story about an orphan who lives in a medieval abbey, and who gets himself involved with Magic and fairies and the lot, I'd have probably politely said "No, thank you."  And I'll tell you, I could just as easily have put this book down twenty, thirty pages in if it weren't for one thing. 

The hob. 

Walsh doesn't exactly give a full description of the creature who gets named Brother Walter in the abbey, instead offering a more contextual impression.  A description of his red fur here, the way he curls his tail around him as he sleeps there.  By not drawing attention to the creature Walsh forces the reader to pay closer attention to the details when they appear.  I wanted to know more about Brother Walter and that desire, however slight, was enough to pull me through until the story in full took over.  There's also something about the matter-of-fact way Will reacts to seeing the hob, a creature modern readers would assume to be mythical but here treated as a "few see them" with nothing about this revelation really shocking Will that much.  The effect is of a time and place we know to be real while at the same time existing outside of our historical knowledge of those times.  The story is a nicely woven tapestry that, while covering some familiar territory with regards to good versus evil and magic, nonetheless feels fresh and would find appeal among readers who might insist they don't generally read or enjoy fantasy. 

Like me.
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