Embertide (A Fallow Sisters Novel book 3) by Liz Williams (book review).

Too many contemporary fantasy novels involve variations of the cityscape populated with nasty but misunderstood supernatural creatures, often vampires and werewolves. Less common is the subtle, rural fantasy that doesn’t involve isolated communities that experience mass mayhem. Somerset is a county steeped in history where it is easy to believe that the tales that make up local folk lore are actually true and mysteries await in unexpected places. Glastonbury Tor presides over the setting for Liz Williams’s delightful series of books involving the Fallow Sisters.

Bee, Stella, Serena and Luna Fallow were brought up at Mooncote, on the Somerset levels. They are very different in character and their names reflect their personalities. Bee still lives at Mooncote and is very organised and likes lists. Her lover is the ghost of an Elizabethan sailor. Stella is a peripatetic DJ, happy to take gigs anywhere and currently lives on a converted Thames barge moored in London. Serena is a successful fashion designer and lives with her daughter in London. Luna is a wanderer, travelling the roads in a horse-drawn caravan with her partner, Sam. Pregnant, she is temporarily at Mooncote. Their mother, Alys, turned up for Christmas but has now disappeared again.

The first of this series, ‘Comet Weather, introduced the sisters and the magic that touched members of the family. It is set in the autumn and is followed by ‘Blackthorn Winter’ with a focus of Christmas and the winter solstice. ‘Embertide’ is set in the period at the end of winter and before Easter when the seasons are changing and the veil between ours and other worlds is thin. The story is told in chapters from the point of view of each of the sisters. Each in turn is unexpectedly drawn across the boundaries either to another time or another place.

Embertide’ effectively begins with Serena who is in Brighton with her actor partner, Ward, at a film shoot. When she finds a dead airman on the beach, she initially thinks he is part of the cast, until she realises that the burnt-out pier is back to its peak condition. Walking along it, she spots, also out of place, Ward’s ex-girlfriend, Miranda, a person Serena is suspicious of for various reasons. Stella wants to know more about the history of London and the mysterious Mags suggests she consults ‘The Book Of London’, a suggestion that leads her to a meeting with the Goddess of the Hunt, who sets her a task, one which Miranda seems to want to thwart.

In Somerset, Bee and Luna are also experiencing timeslips and finding strange fungus-like growths in the woods belonging to the Master of the Hunt, Nick Wratchall-Hayes. Discovering more in his glasshouse makes them suspicious of his motives. Bee doesn’t quite trust their mother who reappears, especially as Alys has been known to ride with the Wild Hunt.

Though the story is told from different perspectives, the narratives blend and each section carries the plot along with a deftness that few writers can match. The world of the Fallow sisters is peppered with the magical and it is not always gentle. Everything is significant and the plot has no redundancies which may be why Serena fades very much into the background towards the end.

Many of the characters will be familiar to those who have read the previous two volumes and their nature may confuse anyone who begins with ‘Embertide. By reading these novels in sequence, the reader will gain a greater enjoyment.

As a minor quibble, the cover, although excellent, does give a skewed perspective. The action all takes place at the tail-end of winter with spring plants and trees only just beginning to come into leaf. The cover depicts a late spring, early summer meadow.

Pauline Morgan

September 2022

(pub: Newcon Press. 342 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-914953-21-7)

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