The Harm Tree - review
Every so often a book captures the zeitgeist, sometimes you are amongst the first to know about it, other times you find out later, sometimes much later and sometimes you wonder why you didn’t know sooner.
Sadly, the way we all live in a subtly narrow little world of online activity and lack of reality of choice means that we just don’t see what we should, we used to…
But we are sadly wrapped up in the wrong things and traditional media and traditional libraries and bookshops are waning ever more.
So, it will surprise you all to find out immediately on debut, just 3 days after it came out that there is a book you can all become instant fans of, because myself and a lucky few who already have read it know. Rose Edwards was at the wonderful Northern YA Festival at UCLan and was a highlight, she was in a panel of ‘Feminism in Fantasy’ and really stood out, her ARCs or Proofs flew off the table, she signed for 2 hours and that wasn’t just because it was a free book, it was because people ‘heard her’ and ‘knew she was special’.
I really don’t like any plot spoilers; I simply want folks to know the book is great and to read it knowing I have, and I read a lot…
I was delighted to be offered a chance to work alongside UCLan publishing in organising some of their book tours and we’ve already and some superb events and superb sales.
Rose has produced not only a brilliant book, but for it to be a debut and so complex, involving and damnably beautifully written and exhilarating all in one go is breath-taking.
She has immediately created a world, a set of wonderful characters and developed a plot of epic proportions which just sings inside your head, it is almost unputdownable. You only do to spend a few minutes thinking, what has just happened there and rereading.
We are taken into a setting that is familiar enough but without actually being anywhere we know, it is just ‘here’ and very ‘now’. We meet a whole belief system of divisions and rules and history that is fed to us through these immeasurably wonderful characters from page one onwards, you are literally absorbing every description of past and present in a fluid and effortless way.
There are always comparable worlds, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Middle Earth’ and Icelandic/Norse Sagas as well as hints of Anglo Saxon and Teutonic mythology too. But the beauty here is they are only used in a simple but very effective way, they are a subtle layer blended seamlessly into Rose’s own world with it’s class and society, it’s old and new religions and it’s magic, but not wandy Potter magic, pure magic of words.
We meet Ebba and Torny, they are thrown together as friends in a gruelling Thraldom of servitude around a busy farm and it’s visiting soldiers and traders. They are equally feisty and practical and yet totally aware they have a place and must stick to the rules. They are old enough to realise they are seen and observed in many ways, sometimes welcomed, sometimes nervously not. Rose has an adept eye for nuance of feeling and describes emotions with utter finesse.
As the plot thickens and flows remorselessly on with the seasons and the actions of the growing cast, we also get her acute ability to add visceral action and brutality to the fore. This is no fairy tale; this is a bloodthirsty and relentless epic worthy of any of the old greats.
She has used a flavour of Norse and some of the motifs are from that pantheon, we have the parallel ‘worlds’ and the use of deities and warfare from within, but in real terms this world is all of Rose’s own making. The hints of Paganism and new religion of the passing seasons and honouring the gods and making sacrifices and having to ‘know the past’ to establish what happens now is done with a flourish of pure modernity and that is why this book crackles with energy and races along like a Lee Child thriller, rather than plods along like a 1950s EV Rieu reworking of Homer. Rose has the flair and grace to make this book an instant classic.
So, I can mention that we meet a fabulous Prester one with steel and determination both of his zeal for his new White God, but also for the Emperor and his army, he is a totally brilliant read, his dialogue is sensational too. We meet all manner of side kicks from errant soldiers with one hand and a penchant for the ale skin to a scribe taking the stories of the past and now from saints known and maybe made. We meet the Harm Tree where sacrifices are made, where on Blood Night appeasements must be made, brutally…
The retelling of Walpurgis, the corn maiden and saint of the harvest and May Day basically, is weaved throughout this with a knowing charm of offering something known in a way of new belief.
The nomenclature of Norse is established as the way we see these folk and gain their stories as we read, but some names have more than one meaning, when you meet the Harrier you’ll see.
Narrated from the perspectives of the two superb heroines, both of whom learn and adapt and yet are intrinsically linked even when apart is sheer artistry. We get moments of simple whimsy, the naming of horses and a dog being one. But we also get the real meanings as we read, the meanings of nature, power and beliefs both old and new, how they matter and what the clash of cultures and beliefs can do.
The lovely twang of Ebba from the East with her dropped vowels just peals in the ear as though she is a Northern lass of ours, but she’s from the East and hints of slavery are used. The shimmering beauty of several characters with their Teutonic or Scandinavian descriptions are used to great effect to weave us into a Northern Hemisphere with harsh winters and warm windy summers and where grain and meat are essential and counted economies, the bead counting is observed.
The scenes where we are taken inside a Barrow or Burial Mound and introduced to a special mirror are spinetingling, the knowing voices of the older characters forewarning and then the younger ones discovering are just beautifully done. Amidst some seriously grisly bloodthirsty battles and set pieces there is also a huge amount of humour, a sort of knowing, lilting way with words akin to David Eddings for me.
The main split narrations of the old ways and searching for a past to save the future and the impending dominance of a new god to usurp the old and bring a sort of light and harmony to the masses is wonderfully done, part Spanish Inquisition type of gaining obedience, and part post Anglo-Saxon Christianity with the under current of we still believe, we just pretend we like the new ways…
Our two heroines are split and must follow very different paths to get to what could be the same place but from very different journeys. Their thinking of each other and little touches like a whale bone hair pin are lovely touches of real synchronicity.
The use of some clever feminism in the staff bearers and salve holder is well done. I like that Rose has used as many decent male characters as female and their interactions are totally believable, Berengar and Medard and Jarle are really brill! Rose works the age and experiences pf her characters impeccably. The use of Finn and Rafe are especially good too.
If you really want a deep and powerful read that is a little ‘like’ what you like but totally fresh and epic and demonic in it’s delivery then this is for you, I truly believe we have a new must read author and welcome to the world of success for Rose, I can’t wait to see readers meet her and share the moments.
Whilst we have signed stock you can get a copy for £6 and free postage via my PayPal
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