Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Hollow Lands

Strangely enough, one of my favourite parts of Sophie Masson's young adult novel, The Hollow Lands, was the afterword. This is because I was intrigued by the setting of the novel, which although it is fantasy, draws heavily on Breton folklore and history. The Hollow Lands centres on the fate of young twins, Tiphaine and Gromer Raguenel, the children of noble parents in fourteenth century Brittany. The twins are drawn into the dangerous world of the korrigans (fairies) from which they must escape or risk losing their humanity forever.

Brittany is an interesting place to set a fantasy novel. It allows Masson to explore Celtic mythology and tradition, particularly the concept of fairies and their interaction with the world of humans. She has also drawn inspiration from the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady and from the real life story of the relationship between a poor hedge-squire who rises to military fame in the Hundred Years' War (Bertrand du Guesclin) and his noble wife, who, legend has it, was part fairy.

The novel begins with great promise. There is some lovely hypnotic prose and the suggestion of wonderful and mysterious events to follow. Early in the novel the twins read from a beautiful manuscript of traditional fables. They fall asleep...
...leaving the book lying open on top of the chest, instead of putting it away, as they usually did. And there it stayed, quietly, in the dark of the night, and the moonlight, until, in the very depths of the night hours, something swift and silent fluttered on to the pages, like a moth, then settled deeper into the book, which received it with a kind of shiver.
Unfortunately this is one of several incidences that seem to lead nowhere and the second half of the novel falls short of its early promise. Whilst the first half is atmospheric and magical, the later scenes, mostly set in fairyland, seem hurried. This is a shame given such a promising scenario and such obvious attention to research.

The Hollow Lands is interesting enough for me to want to read more of Sophie Masson's work (her novel, The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare, sounds particularly interesting) but I can't help feeling there is something missing in this novel. Given more length I think this could have been a very good fantasy novel. As it is, it does not distinguish itself enough to stand out from the many other novels in this genre.

No comments: