Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: The Goblins of Bellwater

The Goblins of Bellwater The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market,' then you may have an idea of what to expect from this book. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; but it is something to note. If you haven't read 'Goblin Market' (I advise that you do), it's about a pair of sisters, one enthralled and seduced by the goblin's beautiful fruits, but then withers without them. Her sister saves her.

That, in a nutshell, is also the plot for 'The Goblins of Bellwater.'

Personally, I didn't mind knowing what was going to happen; I predicted (correctly) that it would stick to the general story arc of Rossetti's poem, but that was okay with me: there was plenty of other little twists and add-ons that kept it interesting. But if you want a book to surprise you - this isn't for you.

Skye and Livy live in Bellwater, a mostly unspoilt place, with little contact from their parents. Livy works as an 'eco-warrior,' which I really liked, as it resonated with me. Skye, meanwhile, works in a cafe whilst she tries to get her artwork noticed by an agent, someone, anyone! (Sound familiar to any other would-be authors or illustrators out there?) But, this is an updated, modern version of 'Goblin Market' - you've got to have your boys! Kit is what's called the 'goblin liaison;' a curse was placed on his family decades ago meaning he has to pay the goblins in gold each month. The goblin magic means he can steal from anyone, anywhere without the fear of being caught; it might sound fun, but
Arthur Rackham's original illustration for
Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'
Kit has a conscience, and detests his work. Historically, all the goblin liaisons have died young (goblins don't always play fair) and the curse falls to the closest relative, making the curse ever-lasting.

When Skye is seduced by the goblins, she's incapable of talking of anything that has happened to her, incapable, practically, of speaking, except in echoes. Livy, desperately worried about her, asks Kit's cousin Grady to come and spend some time with her, trying to get her open up, and providing her with good solid meals - Grady's spending time in Bellwater with Kit whilst he searches for a job as a chef. So, when the goblin magic compels Skye to choose a mate, she chooses Grady, and not a goblin.

This is not what the goblins had in mind.

But, boy, do they have some fun with it. Two humans ensnared by their curse? - it's just a bonus!

Kit gradually works out what has happened to Skye and, subsequently, Grady, and the plot really starts to kick off. The goblins won't bargain with him, and he knows better than to be tricked into another curse that could haunt his future family for centuries. So, it's up to Livy to sort it out.

I enjoyed 'The Goblins of Bellwater;' in fact, I enjoyed it a lot. Knowing the general story beforehand left me free to pick up on more of the nuances, and the ways in which Molly Ringle had tweaked and updated this Victorian story for our modern era. It's been a while since I've read some good modern fantasy (not quite 'urban' fantasy, as it's set in the wilds), and I thoroughly appreciated the ride. My favourite part was Livy's quest to save Skye. I won't go into details here - this is the part where Ringle veers from Rossetti the most - but it was great fun.

Molly Ringle
To be slightly picky, it all seemed a bit too neat, with all the loose ends wrapped up, but sometimes that can be okay. Sometimes I like a story that has a clear ending and we know where everyone stands. The descriptive passages were brilliant; Ringle has a real artists' eye when it comes to depicting the goblins and other fae. I was slightly unconvinced by Skye and Livy's relationship at times; I felt that Livy's character wasn't quite protective enough of her younger sister. But, these are minor points. It wasn't the most brilliant book I've read this year, but it was a lot of fun.

I've noticed that a lot of reviews state DNF (Did Not Finish), which surprised me. I think this may stem from the predictability of the plot, and, perhaps, the character of Skye who was, at times, one-dimensional. However, the reason she was one-dimensional is very clear: she's under a goblin spell. She literally cannot behave differently.

Start reading this with the knowledge that it's predictable and you'll be okay. If you want huge surprises, then this book isn't for you.

For me, it was great, particularly because of my love for the original Rosetti poem. I really need to read some more fantasy...

Thank you to Net Galley, Molly Ringle, and Central Avenue Publishing for giving me the chance to read this book. It will be released on the 1st of October.

EDITED TO ADD!! Here's a really interesting Q&A with Molly Ringle (thanks to the publishing team for allowing me access to this!) AND read on to the end for something even more exciting!

How closely did you follow Chris:na Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” as a basis for the story?
I call this a book “inspired by” Rossetti’s poem rather than saying it’s “based upon” it, because I did veer from the poem a significant amount. I first read the poem a few years ago, and it intrigued me deeply. It’s evocaAve and strange, and, like a fairy tale, has many symbols and events that could be interpreted as having several different meanings. My assignment to myself was to use it as a jumping-off point for a modern paranormal novel, which would then go its own way as the plot required. What I kept from the poem was the basic surface framework: we have a pair of sisters, grown but on the young side, one of whom becomes enchanted by eaAng goblin fruit in the forest and begins wasAng away as a result, alarming the other sister into seeking a way to save her. Since Rossetti’s poem ends with a fast-forward to the women being “wives” and telling their children about their adventures, and since I wanted to write a paranormal romance anyway, I gave my modern sister characters a pair of men to get involved with, in a double love story with eerie angles that I think match the eeriness of the original poem. Mind you, another interpretaAon of the poem is that the two women aren’t really sisters but lovers, which would be a different route to take and which I think would be lovely to see too!

For those of us who haven’t been there, what is Puget Sound like and why did you choose it as a se<ng for a retold fairy tale?

Puget Sound is a vast area of Pacific seawater, meandering into countless inlets and coves in skinny, deep Lords left behind by glaciers. SeaNle and Tacoma and Olympia lie on its shores, on some of its largest bays, but it also has many wilder and more rural shores, especially on the western side where it backs up against a huge naAonal forest on the Olympic Peninsula. That’s the region where my grandparents bought a vacation cabin decades ago, and where my family has been going for many vacations ever since. I can safely say it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. In order to agree, you have to enjoy a cool, rainy climate and all the thick moss and ferns and mushrooms and huge evergreens such a climate produces, and I happen to love those things. Fairy tales, at least those from Northern Europe, almost all involve a deep dark forest. That’s where the faeries, witches, werewolves, vampires, elves, and all the other interesting beings live. Everyone knows that. I haven’t spent much time in the forests of Europe (alas! I will someday), but I reckoned our Pacific Northwest deep dark forests were more than adequate for housing supernatural creatures. My grandmother used to tell us that the mossy ruins of big tree trunks in the Puget Sound forests were the homes of Teeny-Weenies, whom I always took to be faeries. So I set the story there, at the edge of the Sound, where saltwater meets woods and where the Teeny-Weenies live.

What is the significance of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in this story?
The four elements are common fixtures in many ancient cultures, and have remained popular into the modern day. One of my favorite TV shows is Avatar: the Last Airbender, which uses the four-element framework brilliantly in its world-building. In reading up on faery lore for this book, I found that scholars oMen classify types of fae under the four elements, and since that appealed to me, I did the same. As one of the characters in The Goblins of Bellwater muses, there’s something human and emotionally real about looking at nature that way, even if we technically know, thanks to science, that nature contains far more than four elements. And in my novel, the only way to break the goblin spells involves respecting and trusting each of the four elements, even when they’re at their most daunting.

Why do you think fairy tale and other myth and legend retellings are so popular right now?
I think they’ve always been popular! Maybe it’s a case of selection bias, because I personally have always been into ghost stories, fairy tales, and other supernatural lore, but it seems to me that human culture has never stopped telling such stories. As scholars of fairy tales will tell you, reading and writing about fantasy and the paranormal may look like escapism from reality, and sometimes I tell myself that’s what I’m doing, but in truth these stories end up giving us all the useful lessons about real life that any good stories do: empathy, courage, love, respect for nature and community, and the importance of thinking fancifully and creatively.

What are the goblins like in this book?
In keeping with both the “Goblin Market” poem and the bulk of faery lore, they are mischievous and villainous. They laugh a lot, but they are decidedly laughing at you, not with you. They steal, and in particular they lust after gold. Like other fae, they enjoy making deals with humans, but humans would be wise not to enter into such deals, as the obligation tends to be heavier than it sounds at the outset. These goblins go further than merely these, too; they assault and sometimes steal away humans and turn them into fellow goblins, and at other times enchant them into wandering unhappily in the woods until they waste away and die. Although the goblins are sometimes amusing in their level of witty rudeness, they are nearly all amoral and highly dangerous to get involved with. Only a scant few of them, who were once humans, manage to retain any human empathy. However, not all of the fae in my book are this cruel—the goblins are the worst of the lot! Others are willing to be quite helpful to humans as long as they are respected in return.

What kind of magic system does this book involve?
In this book, my main characters are ordinary humans who can’t do any magic, but they become involved in the dealings of the fae realm, which is a bit like another dimension. It can be entered or glimpsed by summoning the fae (which includes goblins), who might or might not answer you. But you’re luckier on the whole if they don’t, because many of them are treacherous, and the realm itself is a wilderness containing many uncanny dangers. From the point of view of the human characters, the magical rules and the cultural norms of the fae are nonsensical, almost inexplicable, but since some of these people have fallen under curses, they have to step in among those dangers and work with the rules as best as they can anyway.

What do you find most challenging in writing a novel?
At first, it’s usually getting to know the characters. I tend to start with a general idea of who they are, but then when I begin writing, I realize there’s too much I still don’t know about these people and therefore they aren’t coming across as real yet. It slows me down in the early stages while I take breaks to write notes in which I interview them and figure them out. I also have a perennial problem with writing antagonists. They have to do fairly awful things (being antagonists and all), but I still want them to feel like real people (or other beings), and therefore I have to get into their heads and figure out why they would feel justified in doing such a thing. It’s not a comfortable place for my mind to go. I suppose that’s why I gravitate more toward romance and lightheartedness: I much prefer spending time with those who love and laugh.

What are the easiest parts of wri:ng a novel for you?

No part of the process is exactly easy. But someAmes lines will occur to me seemingly out of nowhere when I’m writing, and they’re perfect for the moment; or I’ll find my characters talking to each other in my head when I’m not writing. And I love those moments, because for them to have come to life in my imagination like that, it means I must have done sufficient groundwork in figuring out the world and the characters. So although the groundwork is the hard part, it pays off and leads to easier parts later!

How did the writing of this novel, a fairly short stand-alone paranormal, compare to the writing of the Persephone trilogy?
It was far simpler! The Persephone’s Orchard trilogy had dual Amelines, for one thing: the ancient world in Greece, and the reincarnations of those people in the modern day. For another thing, it had far more characters, both in original and reincarnated versions. And for any series, you need to have plot arcs that stretch over the whole series as well as smaller ones that get wrapped up within each volume; and you have to keep the whole thing internally consistent in terms of mood and themes and character personalities. It turned out exhausting enough that I didn’t want to write another series again anytime soon. So I picked The Goblins of Bellwater as my follow-up project: small cast, straighaorward plot, and simple timeline. Most of the action takes place within about six weeks, in this small town, which is indeed a contrast to the millennia of world-spanning events covered in the trilogy!

Would you want to live in any of the fictional magical worlds you’ve created?
Strange though it might sound, I’d love to visit the Underworld as I wrote it in Persephone’s Orchard and its sequels. I made it much less scary, for the most part, than it is in traditional Greek mythology; and besides that, I love caves and glowing things, and definitely would be interested in a ride on a ghost horse as long as an immortal was keeping me safe during it. As for the fae realm we see in The Goblins of Bellwater, I’d like to catch glimpses of it, and of the fae themselves, but I wouldn’t want to actually enter the realm. Too perilous!

What are you writing next?
One of the genres I love, and haven’t written enough of myself, is male/male love stories, so I’ve been working on a couple of those. One is contemporary, no magic or supernatural stuff, and it’s undergoing the feedback-and-revision stage right now. Another will involve a fae realm like that of The Goblins of Bellwater, only in a new location in the world, a fictional setting I’m creating. I still have to figure out how this place works and what its magic system is like, in addition to getting to know the characters, but I’m excited about the idea and it has definitely taken root in my brain.

What are the most magical places you’ve been to in real life?
Puget Sound and its surrounding forests and mountains—which is why I chose the area for the enchanted lands in The Goblins of Bellwater. Also some of the forests and meadows in the Willameite Valley in Oregon, where I grew up. Oregon and Washington are both overflowing with natural beauty and I’m spoiled to have spent most of my life here. In addition, some places in Great Britain have felt quite magical to me, such as Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies) in Inverness, Scotland; or Old Town Edinburgh with its many close alleys and dark medieval buildings and brick-paved streets; or Westminster Abbey, not only because of its beauty and its many graves of astoundingly famous historical figures, but because when I first visited it as a 19-year-old, I’d never been in any building anywhere near that old before (having grown up in the Pacific Northwest), and it blew my mind. 

Wasn't that fun? I love that some of her inspiration comes from here in the UK, even though she's from across the pond; I'm also really excited to read some male/male romance - something I love but there isn't enough of (except in poorly written fan fiction...).

So, wanna have the really exciting bit now? There's a GIVEAWAY going on! For each of the four elements, there's a prize connecting to them; for more information and to enter, just follow this link:

Good Luck!

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