9.10.2012

The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh, 326 pp, RL 5



I have wanted to read The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh since it was first released in 2010. When it came out in paperback this year I decided to buy it and add it to my huge pile of books to read. The premise of a medieval abbey with something ominous buried just beyond the church graveyard and the fantastic cover art by David Frankland - don't miss the creatures in the trees. I have to start this review by saying that, while I am frequently opining that very few kids books need to be 400 pages long (or more) I think that Pat Walsh could have easily added another 75+ pages a the start of her book and I would have been quite happy. Walsh does a fine job describing the life of deprivation, poverty and worship that the monks lead at the monastery (including a glossary and a timetable of life at the abbey) and explaining how main character Will came to be there. However, I would have liked to live in this world and become familiar with it for a few chapters before the action kicks off on page one with a snap and a howl in the frozen woods behind the Crowfield Abbey.

The Crowfield Curse begins in the winter of 1347 in Foxwist Wood with someone - or something - whimpering in pain. When young Will Paynel follows the sounds and climbs over an icy tree trunk he sees a pair of "large green eyes, flecked through with splinters of gold. The eyes stared back at him warily. Then he saw a small, pointed face, the skin as brown as a beechnut, pointed ear that ended in tufts of reddish brown hair, and a small, skinny body no bigger than a cat's. A long, thin tail curled and uncurled around the body." It is a hobgoblin, hob for short, his leg perilously close to being snapped off in a vicious metal trap. And, because Will can see this magical creature, it means that he has the Sight. Sensitive to the suffering of any creature, magical or not, Will convinces the hob to let him secret him back to the monastery where Brother Snail, the crippled monk who is also a healer, can tend to him. Then Will returns to the woods to destroy the trap the best way he knows how - by hurling it into the pool in the midst of a haunted knoll that everyone else avoids, a place he will find himself at again by the end of the novel.

Hiding the wounded hob in Brother Snail's room is just the start of the uncommon activity that sweeps through the abbey over the course of The Crowfield Curse. Abbot Simon, near death, has taken to his bed and left the running of the abbey to Prior Ardo who makes an unpopular decision when he allows Jacobus Bone and his servant, Shadlok to stop a few days at Crowfield Abbey. Word quickly spreads that Master Bone is a leper. What the monks don't know is that their abbey, or, more specifically, that which is buried in the woods behind the abbey, is at the heart of a brewing battle between the Dark King of the Unseelie fays and Sceath-hlakk, a former consort of Yarael, queen of the Seelie Court fays, the Blessed ones. Sceath-hlakk is none other than Shadlok. Banished from Queen Yarael's court hundreds of winters ago, he is bound to Master Bone, a human who was once the queen's minstrel and the most gifted musician ever to play for a queen. The queen gave Bone the gift of music, but the Dark King sought to punish her for giving such a gift to a human and a great war ensued. The Dark King took his revenge by making Bone a leper, them making him immortal. Somehow (perhaps to be revealed in book two) Shadlok is bound to Bone and their reason for stopping at the abbey quickly become clear to Will, Brother Snail and Brother Walter. It seems the brothers themselves have a secret, the clues to which are painted on the walls of the Abbot's room and also on the pages of an illuminated manuscript that has been found in an abbey in France. Will struggles to keep what he knows from the brothers in the abbey as he is swept up into Master Bone and Shadlok's quest.

Walsh does a superb job of making the bleak, winter world of Crowfield Abbey and the woods that surround it come alive while also proving an interesting parallel to the world of the fay that exists all around them but is seen by only a few. Brother Walter, as a conduit or translator between worlds is a fantastic character and I look forward to seeing more of him in the sequel, The Crowfield Demon. There are some disturbing scenes near the end of the book when the Dark King enacts a bloody slaughter of woodland animals to threaten and manipulate Will that I found a bit upsetting, however, Walsh balances this scene with a redemptive act. Walsh hints at Will's future and a role he has to play in The Crowfield Curse and it can only get more exciting and dangerous. A very nice twist at the end of The Crowfield Curse gave me a sigh of relief as a protector of sorts steps forward to guide the orphaned Will into a future where he has made an enemy of the Dark King but also gained an inheritance, the only thing he owns in this world, a finely carved flute made of dark red wood. When he first unpacked this flute and other beautiful instruments from Master Bone's trunks, he has a vision, thinking with certainty, "One day, people will sit and listen to me play an instrument like that. They'll nod and agree that they've never heard anything so wonderful before. I don't know how, but I will make it happen somehow." With his dying words, Abbot Simon cautioned Will that his path would not be an easy one, but also that he would never be alone. With his flute, Brother Walter and Shadlok at his side, I can't wait to see where Will goes next. 

Source: Purchased

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