So I received the following email in my inbox this week:*
"Dear Ms. Mitsch,
I am writing this letter to let you know that I am so glad to hear you are such a fan of my work. I have seen the review you wrote for Wolfskin, and I felt somewhat sorry for the emotional state it left you in. Had I known that it was such a challenge to read such an obvious plotline, I'd have changed it right from the start! Instead, I hope you continue on to read Foxmask, my sequel to Wolfskin. I wrote it especially for you!** Please let me know how you fare with it. All my best, Juliet Marillier."
It's so nice to be thought of! Especially in advanced retrospect, or is it retroactively proactive? Anywho, it took me a week (and a lot of nailbiting and late nights), but I finished Foxmask by Juliet Marillier. Clearly, she heard my plea last week for a more mysterious storyline; I got just that. Maybe I should have been a little quieter in my demands. Had I known what was to be delivered, I'd have cheered my good luck in getting the openess of Wolfskin. Instead, this week, Ms. Marillier handed me a piece of cotton gauze, bid me to bind my eyes lightly, and put me in the passenger seat of her convertible. I was to instruct her turning of the wheel as we drove down Route 1, hugging California's Pacific coastline on a foggy winter's morning. Dear God, what horrific rush!
Whereas Wolfskin made an obvious statement of story arc in the very beginning of the book, Foxmask was almost the complete opposite. The book is set almost two decades after the end of Wolfskin, dealing with the children of Eyvind and Somerled. Eyvind's daughter, Creidhe, is the picture of domestic arts and goodwife practicality. Thorvald, child of Margaret and Somerled, is an outsider in his community, more due to his own moodiness and self-centered nature than anything else. As the story opens, Margaret tells him the truth of his parentage, sending his world into tumult. Being eighteen, impetuous, and full of himself, Thorvald decides to go on a little expedition, just to see if his father is still alive. That's about the only clue the author gives as to where this ride is going to take us.
Much like the rocky and pinwheeling nature of California's coast, this plot moves quickly in one direction, then another, and back again. You can only get the barest glimpse of what's ahead of you, hardly enough to formulate where the road is leading at any given time. Once again (or maybe as usual?), the author tackles some big philosophical questions. Can a person change their nature? How fixed are our personalities, given the genetic inheritance and the environmental pressures? How much farther can truth take you in places of distrust and times of violence? What is a necessary lie? Is there such a thing? She also does a good job of exploring the moral ambiguities involved in "survival" versus "living". Heady stuff, I know, and her ability to slalom through this very deep terrain while keeping the characters and plot on track is just remarkable.
In fact, the story of Foxmask very much resembles its slightly fantastical setting, which the author based loosely on the modern-day Faroe Islands. Located between Norway and Iceland, the Faroes make the Orkneys look like the Azores. (A little bit of geography humor for you there. Go look them up on the map, I'll wait. Get it now? Ok, moving on). Settled in roughly the same era as the Orkneys by the Norwegian Vikings, the Faroes are a hard-luck place for hard-luck people just looking to have a little place to live and pass on. Not much is known about this islands before the coming of Irish monks, as whatever natives might've been living there did not have any written history. If there was a movie to compare this story and location to, it'd be the western Purgatory. Same bleakness of location, similar hard-luck stories. It makes a fantastic backdrop to the ever-shifting story and larger-than-life questions and archetypes that the author uses.
So when I said I would prefer a little dodginess to an outright train wreck, I might've been wrong. I have to say that both of these books put you between the proverbial rock and hard place, making you really question yourself and your moral code. As my husband used to say, ethical questions are really the only ones worth debating; all else is a foregone conclusion. My hat's off to Ms. Marillier; I must be her most emphatically reluctant fan.
Wow, now what do I read? All else seems a little... pale in comparison. Maybe it's back to the magazine rack for a few nights, and give my brain some time to cool off.
*- This is totally fiction.
**- This is utter and totally made-up crap. Though it'd be awesome for an author to say that to me. Maybe something for the bucket list....