on 16 January 2013
Helen for [...]
Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When I heard that someone had decided to write a re-imaging of Wuthering Heights I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or horrified! Bronte's classic is such an iconic book it is a huge step to undertake to look at it in a fresh light. Cathy and Heathcliff have such strength of personality you wonder if anything could expand on that and their tragic, obsessive love is unique in literature. Having said all that, although I can appreciate Wuthering Heights, it is not one of my favourites so I was ready to see what someone else could do with it.
The story in Black Spring sticks pretty closely to the original, particularly in the beginning when Hammel visits the north to escape illness and a broken love affair (just as Lockwood does). He meets Damek (Heathcliff) an embittered and angry man living in an awful household and treating his young wife abominably. When Hammel returns to his rented house Anna (the maid, aka Nelly) tells him the story of Damek and his lost love Lina (Cathy).
Damek comes to live with Lina when they are both children. Until this point Anna has been Lina's closest friend despite the barrier caused by Anna being the daughter of a servant and Lina having come from the royal line. Damek and Lina spend as much time as they can together, both have a restless and wild nature and they literally run off and leave everyone else behind whenever they can. As they grow up Lina's father dies and due to the disfavour with the king his house and land is given to Maseko, an awful man who forces Damek to live as a servant and eventually causes Lina to leave when he assaults her. Damek too leaves and Lina then marries and has a daughter. Then Damek returns and the consequences for everyone are devastating.
The biggest departure from the original is the addition of the fantasy element. Lina is a witch and there are wizards who have a lot of control over the villages and land they live in. Wizards have control, witches are often executed. Then there is Vendetta. This was a really fascinating part of the story, Vendetta is mentioned a few times before it is fully explained. When it is explained you get an idea of the full horror of it and of the power of the wizards who declare it or finish it. Simply put if someone is killed in the village their honour must be avenged. This happens through the eldest male in their family killing the perpetrator of the crime. However this means that the death of the next murdered man must also be avenged and so it goes on, effectively killing off the entire male population of villages as they take vengeance on each other through the family line, cousins and so on are all included. It may sound gruesome, and in many ways it is, but there was a whole ritual behind it of doing things in a precise way at certain times. I would really have liked Alison to spend more time on this idea and in developing it, along with the whole witch and wizard scenario. Anna is affected by this as her father has to become a part of it and she subsequently loses him. Her feelings about the matter and its impact on the family are obviously enormous and yet a lot of it remained unexplored. In the end I was more interested in this than in Damek and Lina's story (possibly because I roughly knew what would happen to them!) I hope Alison will write another novel and focus more on this idea.
The novel is beautifully written. The prose is easy to read but not at all simplistic. Although much more contemporary it had a flavour of a book written longer ago with some of the language that the characters use. As the book is set in a historical time this adds to the gothic darkness that pervades it. In addition Alison captured the brutal quality of Wuthering Heights really well in this tale. The families and some of the additional characters are really barbaric at times. I felt that in this story more of the brutality came from external influences whereas Cathy and Heathcliff's obsessive love brings about much of the brutality in the original. In fact I think that this, for me, is where this story was lacking. The relationship between Damek and Lina just didn't have the impact that the original protagonists had. That is not to say that they don't have a fiery and strong bond, but the punch seemed to be missing.
Verdict: So, after all that (!), I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of a passionate gothic fantasy. However I think it is better not to think about the connection to Wuthering Heights and just read it as a novel in its own right. I think I would have enjoyed it more reading it that way, and if you want to know about Wuthering Heights just read that!
on 24 January 2013
Orgionially published on [...]
Black Spring by Alison Croggon, award-winning poet, editor, critic and playwright, is a re-imagining of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, the same Gothic love story with a fantasy twist of witches, wizards and the vengeance code of vendetta.
Black Spring is unique in YA as it is written in a layered, almost poetic prose. Lina (Kathy) returns home to the barbaric north. She's a witch and is under threat from the wizards. (While wizards rule, the witches are burnt.) Her foster brother Damek is brooding and infatuated with Lina.
When Lina and Damek lose their father, they also lose their land. The King gives it to Masko a spiteful gambler. Lina and Damek suffer by Masko's mistreatment, which was at times almost too grotesque to read.
Hammel (Mr. Lockwood) misadventures to Dameks house and is taken ill after the satanic treatment. While he recuperates, Anna (Nelly) tells him the doomed story of Lina, Damek and Tibor (Edgar) and their tragic story.
The vendetta is explained well and adds to the sense of constant unease and suspense; it highlights how unfair people are treated by something that is considered to be the social norm. This parallels with Lina, if she were a man she would be accepted and revered.
There are two narrators, Anna and Hammel but the main character is Lina. She is the center of attention both in this story and on the page; just as she would have wanted.
Self-centered Lina and Damek tragic ends occur as a result of external influences, whereas it'ss the obsessive love between Heathcliff and Cathy that brings about their end. The true hero of this story is Anna, she is wise, level-headed and empathic.
I would heartily recommend a read, if not for the beautiful prose alone.
When a romantic indiscretion compels Oskar Hammel to leave the city, he rents a house in the grim and unforgiving Northern Plateau, a backwards place governed by the Blood Laws (a form of vendetta where male villagers kill each other until a wizard declares the matter resolved).
Following a supernatural experience at the house of his landlord, Oskar's housekeeper, Anna, tells him the story of the romance between Lina (the wilful daughter of the local lord who was born a witch) and Damek (a boy adopted by Lina's father). Passionate, wild and impossible their love will destroy each other and all who come near them ...
Alison Croggon's YA fantasy is a reimagining of WUTHERING HEIGHTS that takes the main elements of the original novel and reworks them to entertaining effect while staying true to the core themes.
I was apprehensive about reading this as I loathe WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but the deviations from the original kept me turning the pages. I particularly enjoyed the wizards, personified by the cruel and arrogant Ezra who wanders the countryside with a ragged mute boy, enforcing the Blood Laws against the terrified villagers. The way the vendetta destroys the affected villages, whittling away the men and forcing the payment of taxes to the king is chillingly depicted and comes with a final twist that's brilliantly revealed.
Brilliant, beautiful, wilful, selfish, arrogant and considered by all to be a witch owing to her stunning violet eyes, I liked Lina's determination not to be owned by anyone, even as I was irritated by her selfishness. By contrast, Damek is more thinly characterised with his motivations and origins unexplored and I felt that Croggon made a mistake in missing out the effect of his revenge on the next generation (not least because it robs the story of a sense of final hope) because it meant he had nowhere to go.
I enjoyed Oskar's narration and his characterisation as a self-involved fop. I also liked Anna, who develops fully as a character with her own story and whose voice of reason and propriety I enjoyed. A section that recounts Lina's diary worked less well for me, mainly because it felt too contrived.
All in all, this was a vivid, well-told book that takes elements from WUTHERING HEIGHTS but (for me) riffed on them to more entertaining effect. I look forward to reading Croggon's other books.
Review copy from publisher.
on 4 January 2013
Originally posted on[...]
It's no big secret that I loathed Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I don't think a classic has ever seriously depressed me more. So with trepidation I began reading Black Spring, keeping my fingers crossed it would greatly improve on the original, otherwise I knew I wouldn't be reading very much of it. Thankfully, this book was soooo much better. With the inclusion of witches and wizards, giving it a fantasy appeal, this book made a much disliked novel really exciting to read. The plot doesn't really deviate that much from the original but the characters are just so much more interesting and likable. It still has that strong Gothic richness to it, yet it loses the terrible depressive nature of the original, giving it much more vibrancy.
The book has two narrators. The first narrator Hammel, comes across as a pompous twit. I struggled to read the chapters in his voice, because he was just so annoying and droll. Surprisingly I felt the same anger that Damek felt towards him. However when Anna took over the narrative the story really improved. I really liked her voice - she was vibrant yet wise; obviously affected by everything she had suffered. Her voice was clear and concise, which made it a pleasure to read her tale. From her words, you could tell how much she loved Lina and Damek, even though they continued to disobey the rules of society.
Lina came across as a spoilt, selfish yet highly spirited child who had a wicked wild side just brimming beneath her surface. and perhaps she was, bearing in mind she was the only child of a rich land owner. She would eventually get her own way even after punishment - she knew how to control a situation. The fact that she was believed to be a witch frightened a lot of people and they would give in to her requests. It is interesting to note how valued and honoured the wizards of the land are, yet all witches would be burned at the stake. In the end it appears that Anna is stronger than the wizard, which surprises many. I much preferred Damek in this book to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, although his mistreatment of Lina's daughter was disgraceful.
I can't review this book without discussing the vendetta that plagued the country. It was truly horrible - that one person would be killed and a chain of murders would then continually occur to avenge each previous death. Towns would lose every male relative as the murders continued until only the women were left. They all knew they would die and I found it so sad and heart wrenching to read about.
Once I moved past Hammel's part in the book, I really began to enjoy the story. Anyone who can turn my most hated read into an excellent enjoyable book is definitely an author to be explored further. I have never read any of Alison Croggon's fantasy novels but after reading this and really enjoying her style I will definitely look into her other books.