on 16 February 2010
Review for Torc of Moonlight by Linda Acaster.
The Torc of the title I'm assuming is an ornamental collar, and the moonlight mentioned, not one to be serenaded by in the conventional, `nobody gets hurt' style.
I'm probably going to meander off trying to do Torc of Moonlight any real justice, because it is a tight piece of work, intriguing, too, and like any good mystery, unravels at a pace which, first of all, is fast enough to slap us about a bit, whilst maintaining throughout, a dark sort of logic that we can cling to, so if the main character, (and we, through his struggle to know the truth) don't quite get it first time, it keeps on coming with further blows, each time more dangerous, until the balance eventually tips the other way.
`Kneel!' as they say, once you reach the altar stone.
By then it's too late, of course, and we're up to our torc's in deep water, with those nasty tugging undercurrents waiting.
That is the point at which Nick Blaketon, a lazy second year student, not really studying much at all at Hull University, probably begins wishing he was somebody else. But the trouble is, in a way, he already is, you see. He should have paid more attention to the fact his behaviour recently has been losing him all of his friends. Pushing old flames down steps and half murdering bicycles just isn't cricket!
This is all very well crafted, incidentally, economical but rich in vivid description, placing us firmly now, on campus at Kingston upon Hull. The trees outside Nick's lodgings come menacingly close to invading his room at times. The weather is wild and woolly, and the streets of Hull seem to blow with wet, supernatural forces.
The clue has already staggered his way through the prologue, back through the mists of time, and cleaved a hunting dog in two, neat enough for a butcher to hang its carcass up in his window. Not that far away there is a sword and a lake, a Presence, and somebody not quite of this world, indeed like him, this passionate warrior, who also guards a terrible secret. A smack of Arthurian Legend here possibly? Anyway water is the key. And there must be another sacrifice before this thing is over. Well, we, and Nick, must wait and see. For the time, our time and his, being what it usually is, we're stuck in the present. And the past has got to reach us first.
Nick Blaketon couldn't really be less equipped to deal with it. His Celtic warrior skills are sadly lacking, and he knows nothing about history at all.
Until recently his life was just simply a wilfully chaotic attempt at proving himself upon the rugby pitch and that had gone hand in glove, in bed, as it were, with a succession of easy conquests, all seemingly eager to submit to a bit of rough. So we know straight away, he's a bit of bluffer, maybe even a cheat, this Nick Blaketon guy. But maybe he's a bit sick of his image? Maybe he's looking for an upgrade?
Then Alice Linwood, the shy, studious student comes along. Not really his type, yet for a reason that seems quite irrational at first to him, he needs to get closer, and sniff out why.
He is starting to fall in love with her and it just shouldn't be. Worse for him, she shrinks away from his advances, as if he's carrying the old plague, ha, oh dear, it's not all going to end in tears is it?
There are germs of lots of different ideas here, and Linda Acaster weaves into her story, a good mix of symbols that aren't you bog standard kind. When you consider this is romance, I think that's quite gutsy of her. Go with the flow, that's what they must do. And the sex when it comes is lustful and needy. The story provokes as many questions as it answers, and begs for a sequel, of course.
But for all his blokey faults, Nick isn't a bad sort of guy. He just thinks he knows more than a first year student would, about life, and taking a few knocks. All is fair in love and rugby. Alice has notions that men she becomes fond of die. But Nick obviously thinks she should just get out more.
Well she does, and then it really does get nasty. Are they both just being used? Something is coming out of the water again....
As for Ognirius Licinius Vranaum, I wouldn't wish to argue with him. Yeah well he is the old Celtic warrior who travels through water, but he could maybe be some distant screen relation to the gladiatorial feller played by Russell Crowe, I dunno. He was a dead spirit walking, too. Both a bit of a handful, I expect, and not just in the bedroom, good with a sword, too.
Aye, them were the days!
It's a dog cleave dog sort of world and somebody has to end up being king of the castle.