A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This is a beautifully written, pleasantly creepy story, very fitting for the season.
The Blurb: Every Cornishman comes into the world with the soul-deep knowledge that his land straddles the narrow shallows between the solid rocks of English practicality and the ocean of myth that lies beyond. Jamie Tregellis has no time for old men’s tales; working at The Lamb Inn keeps him too busy even to pine for his lost love, Will Andrewartha, who’d split Jamie’s heart in two when he left to become a sailor. Will promised to come back for him, but Jamie had long since given up hope – until one night he hears a noise in the stableyard….
The Review: In Cornwall, in a nondescript past when pub floors were still strewn with rushes and people used horses for transportation, Jamie is a church orphan who has been working for his master, pub owner Garrett, since he was fifteen years old. He’s nineteen now, and suffering from a broken heart. Jamie’s lover, ruthless, cocky Will went to sea a year ago, never to be heard of again. Still, Jamie is hoping and waiting, something that keeps him stuck in a loop even though he sometimes thinks he can’t work in the inn forver.
From the way their relationship is described in flashbacks and short glimpses, it appears that, although it was love for Jamie, for Will, it was not. Jamie is aware of this, but he can’t help the longing and the pain. Every time Jamie hears the pub’s patrons sing the Ballad of Sweet William at night, the memory of Will cuts Jamie like a knife, for the farmer’s daughter Nancy from this ballad also lost her lover William to the sea. The ballad says that Nancy sat on the cliffs every day, looking out to the sea for her lover, until he came back one night, demanding that
“…You must come unto me, this very night.
Tonight, tonight, tha’ must come unto me
Else be not my bride, fairest Nancy…”
Nancy disappeared that night never to be seen again. The very next day word got out that William’s ship had gone under with no survivors.
Even though Jamie’s Will promised to come back too, just like Nancy’s did, Jamie has almost given up hope by now. So when one night Will indeed surprises Jamie by the inn’s outhouse, demanding Jamie meet him at a lonely place next midnight and bring everything he holds dear, Jamie is besides himself from joy. But he’s also wary, because something isn’t quite right. Will is more passionate and loving than Jamie remembers him, and his demand is an ultimatum: come or you’ll never see me again. Still, Jamie does Will’s bidding, anxious to find out if he has more in common with the Nancy of the ballad than a lover named William.
The writing was great, ancient-sounding and yet not stilted or artificial, almost poetic at times. It transported the mystical mood of the Cornish setting perfectly with sentences like this:
“…Jamie gazed out at the sea as he walked, each footfall deadened in the softness of the grass. The waves rang in his ears, their lazy rhythm an affront to his very soul. Aye, now it lapped into the bay, millpond calm, the way a cat that’s been into the cream will pretend wide-eyed innocence before its whiskers have even dried… but he knew the truth…”
“…The yard behind the inn, adjoining the back of the stables, looked different in the moonlight, as if all the color had been bled out of it, replaced with eerie phosphorescent whites and grays. Was that a shadow behind the outhouse?…”
The dialogue was entirely done in dialect – I must admit I didn’t understand every single word of it, but this didn’t bother me. For one, there wasn’t overly much dialogue, and from the little there was I got the impression the people in the story were rather tight-lipped, so the dialect only added to the atmosphere.
This wasn’t a romance, though Jamie sure is a romantic. It wasn’t even a love story, but very much the story of how Jamie learned to cope with the separation from his lover and move on. There is no classical HEA, and yet the ending was fitting and satisfying, a testament of Jamie’s character growth.
I found this a very well-done “scary” tale, fitting the season. I’d recommend it for fans of a pleasant creep, and for everyone who enjoys a well-written, atmospheric short read.