Rhiannon A. Grist, The Queen of the High Fields, Luna Press, 2022.
The Queen of the High Fields is a contemporary fantasy novella that'll take you deep into Welsh myths.
Carys and Hazard only ever wanted to escape their lives. Carys has always been drawn to the sea, to something just off the coast. Hazard, only caring about her grandmother, and wilting in this little seaside town with a family she despises. Both decide to unite to find out what is it that calls Carys, those fabled High Fields, out there in the sea. But it'll be a long way to reach it and the dream may turn into a nightmare.
The Queen of the High Fields alternate chapters in the present and in the past, both from Carys' point of view. While the present takes us pretty much straight away to the High Fields and their strangeness, the past slowly unfolds the tragic events leading to Hazard and Carys falling out, with one back to living in the mainland while the other is still in the High Fields.
It's an interesting choice because it not only reveals what happened between Hazard and Carys, but also who Carys is. Driven, as much as Hazard is, but also taking decisions on her own or lying by omission to reach her goal when Hazard falters. The present is much more focused on Hazard and we can see that everything the two friends left untold contributed to their falling out, much more surely than the events in the High Fields.
Grist plunges us deep into those two characters' lives and it's easy to empathise with them both and their quest for meaning and hope.
The High Fields itself is a fascinating place and Grist gives us all the strange and weird vibes you can hope for in a mythical island. The nature is wild and magical, and in the present broken. There's this place that you don't want to see--why? You'll have to find out. There are four seasons in a day, but nowadays the food germinates and becomes inedible almost straight away. There are people who have been missing - but where are they? And there's this memory Carys carries, of something inhuman, that was on the island and isn't there anymore. Or maybe it's still here, waiting and biding its time to come back. The question of the creation of life and death is also prominent throughout.
Welsh mythology is inherent to the story and infuse deeply every aspect of it, while, at the same time, it doesn't shy away from the current reality of Wales.
The novella is a delight to read. Grist has written a story that flows and that you'll read very quickly, untangling the past from the present, although it might not be possible because causes have consequences. The prose describes artfully the magical island and the inhumane, deftly bordering on horror to convey the uneasiness and fear. It also expertly draws us into the characters and their feelings and their desires. The Queen of the High Fields isn't a story about a magical island. It's a story about a friendship between two misfits desperate to find their place in the world.
The Queen of the High Fields is a page-turner that'll take you to dark and fantastical places, through a broken friendship and broken characters who you'll deeply empathise with.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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