bsBlack Spring by Alison Croggon
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Source: NetGalley/ALA 2013
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

In a savage land sustained by wizardry and ruled by vendetta, Lina is the enchanting but willful daughter of a village lord. She and her childhood companion, Damek, have grown up privileged and spoiled, and they’re devoted to each other to the point of obsession. But Lina’s violet eyes betray her for a witch, and witches are not tolerated in a brutally patriarchal society. Her rank protects her from persecution, but it cannot protect her from tragedy and heartbreak. An innocent visitor stands witness to the devastation that ensues as destructive longing unleashes Lina’s wrath, and with it her forbidden power. Whether drawn by the romantic, the magical, or the gothic, readers will be irresistibly compelled by the passion of this tragic tale.

So here’s the thing. While I’m a pretty avid Jane Austen fangirl, I never did like the Brontes. Jane Eyre made me want to claw my own eyes out, not to mention horrible Catherine and Heathcliff. I like Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney, but suffice to say I don’t really enjoy the so-called classics. So when I learned this was a retelling of Wuthering Heights, I figured it couldn’t possibly get any worse than the original. Plus I love Croggon’s The Naming, so I really wanted to give her another shot. And this dark, gothic story set in a land of terrifying magic and wizards is perfect for me. You know how I mentioned I always skim through Marillier’s descriptions? Not so with Croggon. She just makes them more accessible, less slow and plodding. Does that make sense? So while Hammel is describing the Black Mountains in the beginning, I found myself entranced. Hammel is well-educated and well-bed, but he’s out of his depth in the Black Mountains, and it’s made painfully obvious. What he thinks is a complaint about courtesy sounds to us like spoiled whining. Damek lets Hammel know how wrong his city ways are soon enough though. So in addition to Hammel being a little inept, the beginning is also kind of brutal and violent and scary. We soon move on from Hammel, who is just the frame for this tale, and the narrator switches to Anna, the Red House’s keeper. She was much more interesting and a native to the Black Country, and her story was fascinating.

I don’t remember much outside of despising Wuthering Heights, but GoodReads has informed me that Black Spring follows that plot line very closely. That doesn’t bother me. If you love WH, I think it might, but all I saw was a horrifying story with wizards and sexism and blood and selfish, selfish people. And I loved it, loved it so much, as I knew I would. No one besides Anna has any redeeming qualities, but that’s all right, because she tells the story in the best way. I love her. She has her moments of feminism even, which is always nice to see in YA. Basically, life in Elbasa is normal until vendetta comes. A murdered man is discovered near the town’s border stone, and since the man has no family, the family who took him in must avenge his murder. Within a few months, three men are dead. The cycle will continue until the family runs out of male heirs, then it will be transferred to their next of kin, effectively bleeding the village dry. This is how vendetta lasts for centuries, and it seems silly to our modern eyes, but the fear of the wizards is almost palpable, and they really can make terrible things happen. So the people are cowed, but the religion is strange there as well. It’s a mix of wizardry and Christianity, though the Bible is a less important book that the wizardly Book of Law.

After the vendetta comes, no one is happy. Bad things start to happen. Lina is beaten by a new master. Anna is sent away after her father is barely dead, the latest victim of the vendetta. She is also (TW) raped repeatedly and that was kind of a horrible part to read. However, the inclusion of Lina’s diary really helped me understand who she was, this willful, intelligent, privileged, spoiled, witch-child, and it made me appreciate her more than Anna’s interpretation of Lina and Damek could. By the halfway mark, I was just dreading the pregnancy Lina had to have coming, since this is WH Redux, and, thankfully, we switch back to Anna’s narration for the rest of the novel. And when Damek shows up? This book is one nonstop angst party.

So this brings me to the reason I dropped a star: Damek. We don’t know much about him from the start, only that he’s rumored to be the king’s bastard. We don’t know his origin story, and Anna never learns where he went for the five years he was absent. We saw him as a sullen child with a somewhat creepy devotion to Lina, and then we see him as a man very capable of cruelty and malice. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? He is borderline evil, and we don’t know much about him to reconcile this characteristic. I hated him. He was a terrible person, and to do what he did is monstrous. He deserves what he gets. I just felt like Anna was trying to convey some sense of Damek’s humanity but still I saw none. I didn’t feel any sympathy for anyone but Lina and Anna. If the story was solely about them, then I think this would have been a five-star book for me.

You know how this ends, despite the wizardry. It’s not a happy ending, and it’s preceded by a horrifying, disturbing story. Despite that, Croggon built a starkly beautiful place that was a joy to read about, and, in turn, it was a pleasure to read this one.