The Moonshawl by Storm Constantine. Immanion Press £11.99
Reviewed by Debbie Bennett
I started reading the Wraeththu books far longer ago than I’d care to admit. I’m a great fan of all Storm’s work, but the Wraeththu stories have always felt richer and deeper, probably because it’s a world with (in?) which she’s lived for so long – a world that I know has inspired a lot of fan fiction and armies of dedicated followers. The Moonshawl is the third in a Wraeththu trilogy (following The Hienama and Student of Kyme), but is perfectly readable independently, although having a grasp of the basic premise of this new world would certainly help. There’s a detailed glossary of terms, characters, religious festivals and all manner of interesting facts and snippets at the back of this book, which make fascinating reading in themselves.
After a hundred years, the Wraeththu race has come full circle and rather than leave humanity far behind, they are looking back to the days of their birth – their inception – and trying to learn from the mistakes of the past. But the past doesn’t always want to let them go. And in rural Wales, the grip of history is stronger than ever on the local hara, as two warring families vie for supremacy in the small town of Gwyllion.
Ysobi har Jesith is trying to make a fresh start in Gwyllion. He’s running from the past himself, from failed relationships and bad choices, but now he’s been hired by the local ruling family to “create a spiritual system based upon local folklore”. But the local folklore is Welsh and Welsh myths don’t give up their secrets easily. Ys finds resentment everywhere, a reluctance to explain local history, and everywhere is the pervasive aura of the ysbryd drwg – the bad ghosts. And as the year turns, events build to a climax.
In many ways, this novel reminded me of Alan Garner’s Owl Service. Strongly-rooted in Welsh mythology, there are several layers of love-triangles and we even have both owls and flowers used in ritual. There’s the same sense of cycles of power, of legends replaying themselves through time until somebody is strong enough to break the chain and lay the ghosts to rest. That somebody might just be Ysobi as he works to find out what happened all those years ago when the last humans were fighting for survival.
Welsh legend mixes with the Wraeththu mythos in a powerful story. Rich and deep and detailed. If you’re a fan of hara already, you won’t be disappointed, but this novel will appeal to readers of Celtic mythology too. I loved it.