A recent cultural and literary phenomenon has left literally millions of children and adults the world over all hungry for a good story. As never before in history, readers are wildly waiting for an announcement regarding the publication of certain new books for young adults. This series of book reviews, “While You’re Waiting”, will deal exclusively with literature for children and young adults, both old and new, which will hopefully tide us all over for the next year or two.
Patricia Elliott writes that “All I had in my head at the start of Murkmere was the compelling vision of a girl painstakingly and secretly sewing together a swanskin night after night.” As she explored who that girl might be and why she was carefully sewing every night until her hands were bloody and raw, Patricia Elliott discovered the brilliantly gloomy fantasy world she shares with us in her beautiful book, Murkmere.
Intended for grades nine to twelve, Murkmere is set in a bleak, rural corner of a country ruled by a corrupt theocracy that holds the wild birds as their gods. Everyone from powerful men to school children look to the birds for signs and portents, dreading some breeds as horrible omens and others as protectors and guides.
In this strange and fearful land, Aggie thought she would spend her entire life quietly in her small village. When she is sent to Murkmere Hall to provide companionship to the Master’s strange and contrary daughter, Leah, Aggie is apprehensive. Yet she makes the short journey to Murkmere Hall with the sly and sometimes violent steward of Murkmere Hall, Silas Seed.
In her new place at Murkmere Hall, Leah must find the means to battle her homesickness and trepidation while she learns to navigate both Murkmere’s halls and intrigues. In judging whose friendship to trust, Aggie is repeatedly surprised as she discovers mysteries that involve not only her Master and his ward, but Aggie’s own mother as well. Elliott does a remarkable job of painting a charmingly dark picture of life in the manor and drawing the reader into the story, just as Aggie is drawn deeper into the confidence of Leah and her Master.
Murkmere is a moody and intelligent book which poses difficult questions that many other stories in juvenile literature gloss over or avoid entirely. When Leah finds a filthy swan skin buried by the swampy lakeside, she keeps it as a prized possession. Aggie is forced to examine her deeply held religious beliefs to determine whether this is an act of blasphemy. Aggie’s soul-searching and confusion when she discovers what her Master is hiding in the far tower blossom as she begins a slow transition from an obedient, unquestioning child to an intelligent and strong woman.
In Murkmere, Patricia Elliot successfully blends several traditional fairy tales, classic mythology, history, religion, and politics into a gracefully written gothic masterpiece that will charm even the most sophisticated readers. Elliott’s characters are well developed, her visual descriptions inspired and lovely in their gloom.
Her characterization of girls and boys transitioning to adulthood and all its responsibilities, though subtle, is skillfully done. Everyone, adults included, waiting patiently for the final installment of a certain young wizard’s story to be published would do well to find a copy of Murkmere to entertain them while they wait.