UK Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy, folk tale, novella
I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.
(The Child Ballads, 295)
So begins a beautiful tale of love, loss and revenge. Following the seasons, A Pocketful of Crows balances youth and age, wisdom and passion and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless wild girl.
Only love could draw her into the world of named, tamed things. And it seems only revenge will be powerful enough to let her escape.
When I was interning at Gollancz last summer, I was lucky enough to get to check the page proofs for this book. Unfortunately, I was given them on my last day, so I only got halfway through before my internship finished and since then I had wondered how it ended. When I spotted this proof copy going spare on a visit to the office, I made sure to grab it so I could finally find out what happened.
Tonally, this is so different from Testament of Loki – it reads like an old fairy tale, and is much more lyrical and flowing in its narrative. Set across the span of the year, the book is sectioned into months and then each month has several short chapters, usually four, one for each week. It follows a forest girl, a traveller, who can flit from creature to creature to see the world through their eyes. She falls in love with a human man, and he traps her in her own body then betrays her, and she swears revenge.
As a teen I immersed myself in Celtic folktale for a few years, reading my way through omnibuses and collections, absorbing it in the way only a teenager with an interest can. I’ve forgotten basically all of it, but reading this I felt like I was transported back. The folk tales I read were more Irish and Welsh, and this felt Scottish to me, given some of the names and the descriptions of winter. It slotted in so neatly and tonally with those, it worked perfectly. Each month is prefaced with a folk song or idiom related to it, and I know the finished version also has beautiful illustrations that weren’t included in the proof.
It seems disingenuous to call the narrator by the name her lover gives her, since it traps her and motivates her revenge, so I will just call her the narrator. She is an interesting character, whimsical and curious, often childlike but also with a very deep pride and anger. There is something satisfying in watching her revenge come to fruition against William, and by extension Fiona – although perhaps that reveals a little of my bloodthirsty nature.
The structure of the book makes for a very light, easy read. The chapters are easily digestible, and the further division of the months means that you can pass through a significant portion of the book in a comparably short space of time. It’s a short book anyway, so it feels like the perfect palate cleanser of a read after a particularly heavy book. It doesn’t take long or use much brain power, but there’s enough of a conflict and plot to keep you interested and invested.
Perhaps my only issue with the book was that I personally found the ending a little confusing. There is a set up with the idea of three women – Mother, Maiden and Crone, which is traditional in folk tales and stories, however I wasn’t quite able to parse the reasoning behind some of the actions, or an aside which was raised regarding a cycle of three men.
I did enjoy it though – the setting reminded me a lot of Uprooted, although tonally it is very different it holds the same air of a rural village with the hint of magic. This is a very beautiful book, both in design and content, and I don’t think you would regret having it on your shelf.
- Inspired by folk tales, this is a very lyrical and easy-to-read book with a good plot and interesting characters.
- I got slightly muddled by parts of the ending, however this in no way stopped my enjoyment or the satisfaction I got from the resolution.
- Beautifully designed and illustrated, with excerpts from traditional folk rhymes threaded throughout.
- Perfect if you are a fan of Celtic folklore in particular.
Rating: 4/5 – I thought this was a nearly perfectly formed short read.