12 January 2015
Ah, Tam Lin -- a timeless tale of love triumphing over faerie magic. It's one of those rare stories that works beautifully, no matter where or when its set.
And "Thorn Jack: A Night and Nothing Novel" is one of the best adaptations that I have seen, bringing the story to a modern day small college town. Katherine Harbour's writing is intoxicatingly lyrical ("a voice like ashes and velvet") and she weaves a spellbinding web of romance and otherworldly fantasy. Think Holly Black by way of Neil Gaiman.
After her sister's suicide, Finn and her father move to her grandmother's old house in Fair Hollow, hoping to get a fresh start. She also begins attending HallowHeart, a local college awash in myth and folklore, and filled with fun courses like "Symbols in Body Art" (tattoos), "The Mask in Theatre" and "Scandals in Biblical History." She makes some oddball friends, a few enemies, and learns a bit about the spooky folklore that permeates Fair Hollow life -- including a prediction that she will die on All Hallow's Eve.
Then during a lakeside party, she encounters the Fata siblings, Reiko and Jack. Obviously, there is something very odd about the Fatas, and Jack quickly takes an interest in Finn. But strange things begin to happen to Finn, as she begins to discover that Reiko has a strange hold over her "brother" -- and that Finn may be the only one who can set him free, if she can triumph over dark, tricky forces.
"Thorn Jack" is a novel awash in poetry, violins, leaves, ribbons and masks. Like the old-world HallowHeart, it has a poetic, eccentric beauty that seems both modern and very old and lushly poetic -- which seems appropriate since it mingles the traditional "Tam Lin" tale with the tale of a young college freshman finding her way in a brand new city.
And Katherine Harbour spins her tale in a hauntingly lovely manner, with scenes that feel like dreams (Reiko's final clash with Finn) written in lush, lyrical prose ("The young man before him seemed sculpted from moonlight, autumn leaves, and ice"). She also peppers the story with things that she clearly loves, like poets, certain novels, folktales, Renfaire-clothes, Celtic folk-punk and even descriptions of fairy-tale-like Victorian houses.
She also grasps the faerie folk as few authors do -- the scenes with them are shifting, shadowy and clearly dangerous, flickering between the real and the dreamlike. And Reiko is pretty scary, even from her first innocuous appearance.
Finn is one of those heroines that it takes a little time to warm up to, but you end up really liking her once she settles into her groove -- she's sensible, somewhat snarky, but also bright and arty. She has just the right combination of teen awkwardness and collegiate confidence, with a tinge of heartbreak over the loss of her fragile, glass-thin sister. Her friends are like colorful glass beads accentuating her, and Jack is the "sexy mysterious bad boy" archetype without coming across as Edward-Cullen creepy. He's had his heart removed, after all -- you can't expect him to be normal.
Straddling the line between young-adult and contemporary fantasy, "Thorn Jack: A Night and Nothing Novel" is a tale of glittering fae magic, rich prose and a clever twist on a classic tale. For those who love a good faerie romance, this is a must-read.