The Muse has spent this month with his horn deep in some fabulous stories set in the 16th century Scottish faery lands. First is a unique illustrated story / CD guaranteed to delight all ages, based on the legend of the Kelpie water horses that live in the mysterious depths of the lochs…
Mister Stourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift – Stuart Paterson with music by Savourna Stevenson
This delightful package consists of a CD with story, music and songs accompanied by an illustrated booklet, which create a lovely atmosphere when heard and read together.
The first part of the CD tells the story of brave young Conran, who volunteers to do battle with an evil monster called Mister Stourworm, that is terrorising Scotland and devouring whole towns. It seems a suicidal mission. But as he lies sleeping by the loch, a fairy brings him a magic bridle that will help him tame the wild water-horse that lives in the loch. Riding the kelpie, she says, he’ll have a chance against the worm. After a terrifying ride to the bottom of the loch, Conran manages to bridle the water-horse. But when he sees how sad the kelpie is in captivity, he lets the horse go again. Only when the horse returns of its own free will can they win the battle against Mister Stourworm.
With atmospheric music performed by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, the CD also contains three beautiful songs with lyrics by Les Barker and music by Savourna, which continue the mythological theme. As its title suggests, this little package would make a perfect gift for those who love enchantment and magic. This copy was generously gifted to Katherine by the owner of the wonderful Atkinson Pryce Bookshop in Biggar (where you should be able to find a copy if you live in Scotland!)
Naturally, the Muse heartily approves of kelpie water-horses, which also make an appearance in the following brand new novel for older readers…
Firebrand – Gillian Philip.
If you’ve grown out of sparkly pink fairies but still enjoy the fantasy genre and are wondering where to go next, then this book is for you! Seth, the narrator, is the half wild son of a Sithe (fairy) lord, banished from the fairy queen’s caverns to live with his father and older brother Conal in their version of the Scottish fairyland. Except the inhabitants of Gillian Philip's fairyland fight, love and brawl more fiercely than mortals, and their feuds go deeper because they live so long.
The Sithe have magic of a sort – healing skills and telepathy, as well as the ability to tame the wild water-horses of the lochs. But when Seth and his brother Conal are banished to the superstitious 16th century mortal world, this magic does them more harm than good. Conal is unable to resist using his magic to help people, and is soon accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Only Seth can save him from the terrible agony of death by fire… with a crossbow bolt to the heart.
This harrowing first scene will grab you by the throat, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Make no mistake, in these pages you’ll find real torture, real pain and real death. This powerful fantasy is published on a teen list, but it would sit equally well on an adult genre list. For this reason, the Muse recommends reading the first few pages beore you commit… if you are looking for a lighter read, you might enjoy it a bit more if you wait a few years. (But if you do like the sound of this book, then the Muse advises buying it NOW and keeping it on your shelf to avoid disappointment later). For readers who loved this one, there is a sequel Bloodstone due out next year, and maybe more to come!
To round off this month’s Scottish faery theme with a flourish, we have two classic titles:
The Sterkarm Handshake and A Sterkarm Kiss – Susan Price.
Although these books were originally published on a teen list, Susan Price’s unique blend of history and science fiction contains a dose of humour that makes this series an enjoyable read for all ages.
The Time Tube is a brilliant 21st century invention that links the modern world to the troubled 16th century borderlands. FUP, the company who built the tube, are hoping for a return for their investment from mining gold and coal from the past, as well as from tourism. But they haven’t reckoned on the Sterkarms, a family of Border reivers permanently at feud with their neighbours the Grannams.
The Sterkarms think the "21st-siders" are elves from fairyland, and are happy enough to make a peace deal with them in return for the wee magic pills (aspirin) to take away their pains. But nobody has told FUP they should never shake hands with a Sterkarm, who are infamous for their treachery. The Sterkarms are all born left handed, so can shake hands with their right while slipping a blade between the ribs with their weapon hand... the intriguing “Sterkarm Handshake” of the title. Only Andrea, sent to live in the Sterkarm tower for research purposes, really understands these people. To her they are loveable rogues, especially the Sterkarms’ handsome son Per.
When Per is badly wounded on a raid, Andrea takes him through the Tube to a 21st century hospital to save his life. But FUP, furious with the Sterkarms for breaking their promises, have other plans for Per as a hostage for his family’s good behaviour. Needless to say, the Sterkarms are not going to stand for this, and their next reive is against the elves...
By the end of the first book, the Time Tube has been closed down. But it is reopened again in the Sterkarm Kiss into a slightly different dimension, where the elves have learnt their lesson and seek to control the border by arranging a marriage between the Sterkarms and the Grannams. Per is the groom, and to Andrea’s horror takes a Grannam bride. With the elves enforcing peace using 21st century weaponry, all looks good until the wedding breaks up with the death of the Sterkarm and Grannam lords, beginning another feud that Andrea must sort out.
Per is not quite such a loveable character in the Kiss (with his father murdered), as Per in the Handshake (with his father alive), which adds an interesting dimension to these books. Are there copies of ourselves out there in other dimensions, subtly different because of different events that happen in our lives?
The Kiss ends on a cliffhanger, which means the Muse and Katherine (and probably a lot of other people as well!) are chomping at the bit to get their teeth and glittery horns into the third book of the trilogy... come on Scholastic, it's been a VERY long wait! More details on Susan Price’s website.