Although a classic I’d not read this novel before, but stumbling across it at the Oxfam Bookshop this winter, I found the combination of the title and the folk horror revival vibe in Michael Heslop’s cover irresistible. Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, which he did not know as one of his brothers died very young. He’s been born to a special task, uniting the forces of light against the darkness:
‘It is a burden,’ Merriman said. ‘Make no mistake about that. Any great gift of power or talent is a burden, and this more than any, and you will often long to be free of it.’
It’s full of history, pagan symbols and eternal struggles. The struggle of dark against light is rather simplistic as many myths are. The contempt for women is striking within the narrative: ‘typical females’ are silly. There are maiden, mother and crone for symbolic purposes, but the maiden has to be rescued by Will, the mother falls and sprains her ankle to provide emotional ammunition and the crone has to be brought back by Will as well. Not that any of the characters are especially well drawn: they’re just pegs to carry the narrative forward, and it moves at a good clip.
This sounds more negative than it is in sum. The vivid scenes of magic and myth really leap off the page. The mysterious mask, the snow that falls for days, the almost sentient fire Will discovers in the past all offer a thrill. Her poetry sings:
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.
The Wild Hunt at the end that awakens Herne is truly magnificent. We all need inspiration to fight the dark that is rising now. There’s much to inspire here.