Suzanna J. Linton’s Willows of Fate caught my eye immediately when I came across it on Book Club Reading List. The cover is gorgeous and evocative and the summary promised a fantasy story linked intrinsically to fairy stories and other realms. I was definitely not disappointed.
Check out my interview with author Suzanna J. Linton here.
“I know the hooded man is one of the phantoms only I can see and not some costumed crazy. It’s like knowing there is a fire because of the heat against my skin.”
Ever since she was a little girl, Desdemona has been able to see things that other people can’t. She tries to ignore them: the girl with three eyes by the bus stop, the centaur in the church, the knight in shining armor at her birthday party. After the death of her father as a teenager, she ran away from home and turned to alcohol and sex to cope with the things she sees. Now, she finally has her life together. Des has a good job and is going back to school when she gets the news that her mother is dying. She takes a trip back to her childhood home to say goodbye and then arrange her mother’s funeral, putting into motion a series of events that changes her life forever.
She begins to interact with her phantoms in new and frightening ways. There is Martin, the seemingly heroic knight from her childhood, Anselm, a Robin Hood type figure who fires arrows at her from the shadows, and the scholarly Edmund, who seeks to persuade her to follow her destiny. Between the three of them, Des is transported through the Willows to another realm. There, she discovers that things are not as they seem and that she alone holds the key to saving both this new world and her own.
Throughout Linton’s novel, there are persistent elements that put readers in mind of fairy tales and popular legends. There is a knight in literally shining armor, an archer wearing a green hood, and a magical boundary into another realm. While these are all familiar to readers, Linton does an excellent job of keeping the story fresh and exciting. There are echoes of Narnia and Wonderland, but I was most reminded of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and his adroit skill at weaving the fantastic and the mundane together in a way that makes you question whether or not the events are really happening or the main character is having some sort of extended mental breakdown.
“ For a moment, I hang in clouds of mist, suspended. A resounding crack and blinding flash and gorgeous gold envelops me. Green tendrils wrap around me, lift me, draw me close to I’m not sure what. The heart of it, if such a thing as this glorious barrier could have a heart. The extra sense growing in my heart swells and possesses me, like a fierce first love. I am myself. I am everywhere.”
Willows of Fate reads a bit like a YA novel for twenty-somethings, in the best way possible. It is at heart a coming of age story or rather a story about coming to terms with yourself: who you have always been and who you have become. Desdemona is not a child. She has been through quite a lot in her young life, from surviving as a teenage-runaway, overcoming alcoholism, and facing unimaginable loss. The unfolding of the story is a reminder to everyone that we never really finish growing up. There are always more things to discover about ourselves and new ways to grow. In effect, although Desdemona is undergoing many strange new experiences and learning new things about herself over the course of the novel, it is nothing new. She has remade herself many times before and she continues to grow and evolve, just as we all do in real life.
She has coped with all of this while fearing that she is crazy, that the things she has seen all her life are nothing more than the delusions of a sick mind. This has been a fantasy trope since Through The Looking Glass, however Desdemona’s age adds another layer to the tale. Most mental illnesses manifest and are diagnosed during a person’s 20s, which makes Desdemona the age where schizophrenia often begins to present itself. Compounded with the trauma she has faced, this gives her increasing contact and interacting with her phantoms an edge that it might otherwise lack.
Willows of Fate is a well written and highly polished work of fantasy. Linton has done an excellent job building a unique world populated by intriguing and complex characters. The story is part of a series, entitled The Lands of Sun and Stone. Despite this, the book ends with a satisfying resolution, leaving readers with an understanding of how events unfolded. There are questions left to be answered, but readers don’t have to worry about a cliff-hanger.
[stars color="aqua" number="five" width=""]
I give Willows of Fate five stars. It is one of the best fantasy novels that I have read this year and I can’t wait for Linton to continue the series with these characters.
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