My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.60 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.19 / 5.00
When Maggie Black was a student she fell in love with the writings of reclusive, but acclaimed, poet Davis Cooper. The pair exchanged letters for many years but never met in person. As Copper fell further and further in to alcoholism after the death of his young lover, artist Anna Naverra, Maggie gave up writing poetry so that she could support her husband as he built his music career. Unwilling to accept his infidelity she divorced him several years ago, although he still tries to control her life. She is about to sell their house and move away when fate intervenes: Cooper dies in mysterious circumstances and leaves his house and all its contents to her.
Maggie moves to Cooper’s home in a canyon Tucson, Arizona, where she meets his friends, reads his papers and experiences the desert that was such an inspiration to him. However, she is surprised to discover that the land and its inhabitants are not as simple as they seem and she gradually uncovers the wild spirits that live there. As she becomes more at home in the desert she begins to see what really lives there and comes to understand how Cooper could have drowned in the middle of a dry creek bed.
I chose this book as the Folklore title for the Once Upon A Time VI Challenge because I had seen some reviews of it that suggested that it was an interesting choice for the category.
This is one of those books where are I need to be purposefully careful about the magical elements that inhabit its pages because I do not want to spoil the surprises that it contains. Some books are so much better if you can explore them without too much knowledge of what to expect, and this is definitely one where that sense of wonder needs to unfold naturally.
The beginning of the book was somewhat disorientating as we are presented with a Prologue with several vignettes from the night of Cooper’s death. After this, the story is mostly laid out from Maggie’s point of view, although we do follow several other characters’ viewpoints as well. We follow Maggie as she encounters the various humans and spirits in the area, with the other perspectives adding information or offering tantalizing hints of what is really happening. Maggie is a well-drawn, likeable character with a great deal of sense and empathy that make her an intriguing protagonist. The other characters are interesting and fit well into the roles that they fulfill, although few of them are explored in very much detail as we concentrate on Maggie and her story.
The story unwinds elegantly and slowly, with suggestions and hints carefully placed so that there are few true surprises as the truth is revealed. However, this adds to the feeling of revelation and growing understanding that we share with Maggie and it works very well. We usually ‘see’ things before Maggie, as if our eyes are being opened to the magic around her slightly before hers, or she is seeing the same things as us but her mind is discounting them as impossible. This makes the magic seem real and solid as if the curtain that normally hides it is gradually fading until we see the total truth.
The world that we discover is built upon the ancient mythologies of the Mexicans, Celts and Native Americans, so it is very grounded in nature. Grace at Books Without Any Pictures feels that American culture does not have this type of mythology and so appreciates that this book creates one. This is not the magic of Harry Potter, but the inherent power of the land itself, with aspects of nature personified and able to act to influence the environment. There is a timeless quality to these ‘spirits’ that results in them being totally different to us, with concerns and morals that we cannot comprehend. This ‘otherness’ is captured beautifully and resonates well with the indifferent majesty of the natural world. The desert is inspiring and breath-taking, but it is also dangerous and can lead to insanity and even death. I like how the desert acts as a muse, inspiring so many people to creative and artistic expression, although they all react in different ways.