Things Corinna Stonewall likes:

1. Power.

2. Secrets.

3. Rain.

4. Lurking in cold, damp, pitch-black cellars.

Things Corinna Stonewall doesn't like:

1. Sunlight.

2. People.

Corinna is a Folk Keeper, assigned to live in a cellar and feed, ward off, and placate the hungry, spiteful, dangerous Folk, who otherwise will eat the animals and destroy the crops. An orphan, at age eleven she decided that she was sick of doing boring housework, and so cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and learned to be a Folk Keeper. She has spent five years lurking in a cellar. Then she gets taken to a new estate overlooking the ocean, where everything changes...

This was GREAT. The language is gorgeous, Corinna's voice and character are prickly and funny and wonderful, the characters are all vivid, and the story is full of twists and cleverly used folklore motifs. I saw the most important surprise coming, but didn't catch about three others.

If you liked Billingsley's Chime, you will almost certainly like this. It has some similar motifs and virtues, but is shorter, simpler, and less dark.

The Folk Keeper
Thanks to the multiple people who recommended this novel. It is indeed excellent, and not remotely cookie-cutter.

Life and stories are alike in one way: They are full of hollows. The king and queen have no children. They have a child hollow. The girl has a wicked stepmother. She has a mother hollow.

In a story, a baby comes along to fill the child hollow. But in life, the hollows continue empty. One sister continues lonely and unloved; the other coughs behind the door. I sat in the hall. I waited. Father returned from the Alehouse. I waited. He sat before the fire in the parlor. I waited.

Sometimes, of course, the sister's the wicked one, not the stepmother.


In a strange alternate early twentieth century in which magical beings are real and everyone believes in them, and witches are still hanged, teenage Briony lives with her distant father and mentally disabled sister, in a flood- and fire-damaged house on the edge of a creepy magical marsh.

As you can see just from that description, elements of the gothic and of Katherine Briggs-esque folklore mingle in this unusual, original novel. These Old Ones are not the standard elves codified by a million works of modern fantasy, but creatures that seem to have stepped straight out of the British oral tradition, only incidentally familiar by name. The entire story is rich in folkloric motifs from everything from ballads to fairy-tales to nursery rhymes.

The language of this book, which is Briony’s strange, twisted, witty, folkloric voice, is wonderful. At least, I thought it was wonderful. This is a novel which rises or falls on voice, and if you don’t like the voice, you will not like the book. I recommend reading the prologue and first chapter or so to see if you like it.

Better yet, the voice serves a purpose. It will quickly become clear to experienced readers that Briony is a very unreliable narrator, consciously hiding some secrets and unable to admit others, even to herself. Her webs of wordplay and misdirection serve the double purpose of intriguing the reader and protecting herself from the enormous weight of things she’s trying not to think about or remember.

Because the subject of the story is Briony’s unwillingness and inability to come to grips with the truth, there are points when the reader will be way ahead of her. (There are other mysteries that I didn’t figure out until Briony did.) Usually I find that very frustrating, but in this case, it’s justified by the story rather than being a case of the author spinning her wheels.

Unusually for a novel which is so focused on the inner state of the protagonist, the supporting characters are vivid and individual. I especially liked Briony’s sister Rose, who unlike many characters of the sort, is a person in her own right and not just an object of Briony’s guilt.

This is definitely the sort of YA fantasy which appeals as much or more to adults. It probably could have been marketed as adult fantasy – other than some aspects of the romance, the only thing which makes it YA is the age of the heroine.

Chime

I had a few quibbles, which sum up to some revelations being either confusing or relying on unlikely motivations. But that’s as far as I can go without spoilers. Note: contains a non-graphic attempted sexual assault.

Carry a Bible ball to ward off spoilers. )
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