Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle: book review

The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle (Jo Fletcher Books £14.99)

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

A silver bough is, in parts of Scotland, the name for apple trees in general; Lisa Tuttle’s novel is a retelling of the Mabinogi story of King Bran and the mystic ringing silver bough which bears the golden apples.

The Silver Bough centres around a village on the Scottish coast. Once a prosperous place, the significantly named Appleton has fallen into decay. Enter three American women all looking for something in their lives: Ashley Kaldis, a teenager searching for the truth about her grandmother who left Appleton for Texas so many years before; Kathleen Mullaroy, the town’s new librarian, recently divorced and  looking for a new start; Nell Westray, a young widow looking for a hiding place to recover from her beloved husband’s death.

A landslide blocks the only road in and out of Appleton, cutting off all power and communications to the modern world; plus a mystery fog creeps into the shoreline and keeps shipping at bay. This catastrophe brings about changes throughout the town and its inhabitants. All of those changes gradually coalesce around a strange young man named Ronan and the apple tree that has remained hidden in a walled garden for years on years.

As the town’s enforced isolation goes on, its turns in on itself to examine its demise. The focus falls upon the Apple Queen celebrations, an ancient fertility rite, which they had ceased to celebrate in the 1950s, and from which neglect the older inhabitants feel sure their woes began. When Nell finds a way into the walled garden and determines to resurrect the old tradition Appleton begins to subtly change.

This skilful weaving of old folk traditions with modern urban myth makes The Silver Bough a fascinating, wistful and intriguing tale that cannot fail to satisfy any lover of fantasy, any kind of fantasy. Lisa Tuttle ramps up the mystery and tension right to the very end. Love story, folktale, fantasy, supernatural mystery: The Silver Bough is all of these things. Its characters are fully formed and their histories complete, as are their intertwined fates, all encased in a excellently-written narrative. This is an excellent read, beautifully presented in a handsome hardback edition. (Note: The Silver Bough was first published by Bantam in 2006.)

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