RogerBW's Blog

Thornyhold, Mary Stewart 24 May 2019

1988 romantic suspense. After a lonely childhood, Geillis Ramsay finds herself orphaned and the heir to her mother's cousin's house in rural Wiltshire. And perhaps to her magic too.

There was a long gap between Touch Not the Cat and this book; Stewart finished off her Merlin trilogy, as well as writing her book about Mordred and her last children's book. I can't help feeling that she didn't really want to go back to the derring-do of her earlier works… nor even, perhaps, to deal much with the modern world, since the bulk of the story here happens a few years after the War. (This mostly shows up as rationing still being in place, and the hero having been in the Western Desert, though he doesn't like to talk about it.)

The real change from earlier books is the lack of conflict. There's some opposition, but it's never physical, and nobody ends up killed, arrested, or even punched in the face. The story is much more about Geillis growing up, or rather into the shape that is hers rather than her parents' daughter's. That makes it all very gentle… and, sometimes, very slow, particularly in the early chapters, which also come with more gratuitous unpleasantness than is usual for Stewart. (Contrariwise the romance, when it comes, seems quite cursory, as if it were an obligatory thing that had to be put in but without any particular enthusiasm; by the end of their first meeting Geillis finds herself in Love.)

As in Touch Not the Cat, Stewart makes it very clear that there is magic in this world, and not just the small magic of herbal remedies that actually work. But not everything that is magical is necessarily a good thing, and Geillis has to decide just what she's going to take on and what she's going to pass up.

The landscapes are well drawn, always one of Stewart's strong points; the characters, apart from Geillis herself, rather more shadowy. This is much more pastoral than Stewart's earlier works; not unpleasant, but perhaps not what one might expect.

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