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Book Review – Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

Synopsis:  During the 1200s in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable middle-aged Irishwoman and the troupe she leads are trying to drive their three wagons across the mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her powerful and enigmatic lover, her fey granddaughter, and her young apprentice, soon discover that something terrible prowls the woods. As the group travels from refuge to refuge, it becomes apparent that the mysterious evil force must be faced and defeatedor else they will surely die.     An intoxicating and spirited blend of fantasy, mythology, and history, Something Red features the most fascinating of characters including shapeshifters, Irish battle queens, Norman knights, Templars, pilgrims, Saracens, a Lithuanian noblewoman, warrior monks, strongeven dangerouswomen, and ten murderous mastiffs, as well as an epic snowstorm that an early reader described as one of the coldest scenes since Snow Falling on Cedars.

First Line:  The wheels were solid disks as high as Hob himself, and the wood was warped a little and wet with the snow now coming down hard and clinging in patchy lumps to the rim.

Random Quote:  Still, Father Athelstan spoke of a cousin in the bishop’s service, and of sending Hob thence when he should be more grown.  To that end he had insisted that Hob learn to serve at table as a page, and to speak passable, if somewhat accented, Norman English, and many summer afternoons Hob spent learning to assist at Mass and to spell out letters with all instruction conducted in crisp nasal Norman English, studded with French terms like currants in a bun, while through the windows the warm drowsy air brought theguttural Germanic accents of the village lads at play.  Molly had swept like a salt breeze from the Western Ocean through the little hamlet, and convinced the ailing old man to apprentice Hob to her service, and swept out along the road again two weeks later.  Father Athelstan she left, with bottles of her potions in a goatskin bag, standing in the roadstead, one hand raised in farewell, next to a priest house that suddenly seemed curiously empty to him, and which he felt reluctant to re-enter.

Review:  Something Red absolutely blew me away.  This is one of the best debuts I’ve read in years and the story itself still haunts my dreams.  It was all the best elements of Irish folklore, historical fiction, and a very frightening mystery at its cores.

Mr. Nicholas’ is a very talented writer and storyteller.  I love the way he puts words together and describes scenes, events, and people.  He also writes great and slightly mysterious characters that I couldn’t help, but fall in love with almost immediately.

13th Century Englishwoman spinning thread for trade
(image source)

Imaging being a trader in the 13th century – I couldn’t before this.  There is the community of travelers, pilgrims, traders, and inns that supply the necessaries along the way.  There are bandits and things that go bump in the night and weather that can quite literally free to death anyone unfortunate enough to be out in it.

It’s the things that go bump in the night that are at the core of this book.  Wrap these things with exiled Irish queens, Lithuanian travelers, monasteries with mastiffs, inns and pure survival and you get a tale you won’t soon forget.  Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy for review through NetGalley

Publishing Information:  Atria Books – September 18, 2012

Format:  Kindle

Reading Challenges:  Mystery and Suspense

Published inBooks

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