Fair Weather by Barbara Gaskell Denvil
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
I absolutely adore time travel, and for that reason alone was fairly certain I would enjoy Barbara Gaskell Denvil’s Fair Weather. All right, there’s the medieval setting, which played a sizeable role in persuading me as well. Set partly in King John’s England, it also contains a murder mystery, which I haven’t read a lot of, though have found I tend to be fond of the furtive element.
As it turns out, enjoy is rather an understatement. I sped through this book of over 500 pages in four days, and though a quicker read is not always indicative of its worth, my online log shows the bulk of the reading done in the final 48 hours, and I remember these hours well: staying up appallingly late, the sense of urgency as I devoured pages with avaricious hunger until, finally, as I observed the bulk on the right side of my copy thinning out, the occasional warning to my inner self that it would soon be over.
From the very first page I was invested in the book, as Molly opens by confiding in the reader about her secret place. The very first large paragraph draws us into her existence, one in which even the pervasive smells of her other world—as we are to learn of—beckon from the streets of thirteenth-century London. Here is Tilda, an orphaned street waif, and Vespasian Fairweather, who has taken the little girl under his wing and taught her and others how to steal for survival.
As Molly’s visits to this time become more frequent, and grisly murders splinter her life and state of mind, she realizes she must find answers, quickly, before both worlds are destroyed. Encountering Vespasian, she senses he holds much of the information she seeks while necessarily protective of her own. What has he done? How much power does he really contain? Is he aware she is not native to his era? Seeking these and many other answers, Molly comes to understand that she must get much closer to the dangerous Vespasian in order to free herself of him and the menace looming all around.
Gaskell Denvil is an extremely talented writer. The murders do occasion some rather descriptive images, though I was able to make a clean break from the physical element each time as I moved forward in my reading. Many readers find this a troublesome proposition, given their horror at such acts as the author describes, or toward what they sometimes fear is their own severance from compassion. In other words: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Molly, however, agonizes over the crimes, though via the deft hand of a creator whose perfect balance keeps it all from becoming overly melodramatic or without substance. Simultaneously, as the author leads us in, we feel right along with Molly, whose self-awareness works to keep us all in check. This in turn ties in with another deliciously mysterious and captivating element of the book I shall leave for readers to discover. Suffice to say the author handles the enigma that is identity exceedingly well—readers will notice certain passages that reveal her expertise.
Other techniques she engages are the sprinkling throughout Fair Weather of enchanting personification—
Shops shut early as winter dark still slunk in by mid to late afternoon.
—along with passages of graceful and shimmering imagery:
The electricity lightens my room in gaudy detail, but my eyes see only the spasmodic sputtering of lemon shadows from candle stubs.
Expressive in its striking eloquence, possessing perfect rhythm within each and every sentence, Gaskell Denvil’s poetic words convey so vividly what she points out for us to see. The ordinary isn’t simply transformed into magical, for this meanders throughout the world of the novel, recognized by characters and their observers; simple words are strung together like pearls until we are presented with a glorious necklace that transforms, as a whole, an entire sentence and, in turn, each scene.
This is not all: the author creates a world in which many complicated events and perspectives intertwine, and links within their history connect to larger figures and implications. In the hands of a lesser writer this could spell doom, and indeed a complaint of mine regarding some other fantasy novels is that they often tend to involve an overabundance of characters amongst unorganized events and too much deus ex machina. However, Gaskell Denvil’s management of her characters is in perfect balance: she allows them to be who they are, but they don’t run amok. They make sense in relation to each other, have limitations, sometimes can offer quick solutions and at others meet the consequences of when they cannot.
I tumbled into the pupils of his endless eyes. He was utterly in command of my mind.
Interestingly, characters’ comments occasionally seem to deliberately reach out to readers: “Time travel is more common than you think.” (“Yes! Yes!” I shout from within.) At other moments they engage in this while simultaneously reminding us that they, too, have a sense of history while we delight in the recall of figures we’d forgotten amidst our overloaded modern society, or in recognition of religious reservation, not a recent invention. “Purgatory,” said Vespasian softly from his high chair in the shadows, “is a dubious invention of the church.”
As Fair Weather progresses, its plot widens and we come to know more of the ancient demon Lilith and other mythological figures than before as we witness the rise of the battle between good and evil, acted out by individuals whose lust for power is so great, no act, vessel or other is sacred enough to be spared their malevolence. Gaskell Denvil—or is it Vaspasian himself?—does a superb job of revealing only what she wants to be known. Mystery, however, is not retained for its own sake, as we gradually are brought to understanding of the methodology of revelations and the harsh lessons and consequences of choosing to ignore events that do not seem to directly affect us. Not that the author wags any fingers—simply that her scenes are so vibrant, powerful and comprehensively created, it is easy to envision ourselves within the environment as we encounter surprises and questions are answered.
I also loved that these people defy easy characterization. While good and evil battle it out, there typically is an element of both within any entity, and their dimensions don’t always allow readers to determine so quickly whether one is to be trusted, liked, avoided and so on, placing us that much more into the mind of Molly. We observe the world through the eyes she herself sees it—and even that changes, given the times she inhabits, events that occur and her growing understanding of the nature of all matters, such as the spirituality of alchemy, what good really is and the nature of control.
I sat beside him. He didn’t move or seem surprised … I looked down at my own reflection in the water at his feet, my face partially obscured by floating weed and summery green algae. It was deliciously balmy … [b]eside me, still watching me[, h]is cotta was crumpled as a cushion, his hands clasped beneath his head. He cast no reflection in the pool at all.
“If you are who I believe you are, you know about that already. I have no intention of explaining myself further—even in dreams. Come back into my own world if you dare … and find out for yourself.”
“I shall, though not at your command ….” I lowered my gaze, knowing his eyes could read me. Cross and frustrated by his answers, I pointed to the pool. “Look,” I said. “Like the devil, you cast no reflection.” But when I looked up for his reaction, he had gone.
Despite its hefty bulk—oh and this becomes a great boon soon enough!—Fair Weather is a novel one will definitely return to, for its language is accessible, the story captivating and those who populate it will reach out to readers. It is commonly understood that great works reveal to us more each time we approach them, and this will certainly be so with Fair Weather, for we grow with its reading as does Molly, and getting to know Tilda, Vespasian and others is an enchanting maze into which we will want to re-enter repeatedly.
About the author …
Having been born into a literary family where book shelves filled every room, Barbara Gaskell Denvil grew up assuming that writing would be her career. She began writing when she was extremely young and then went to work in the British Museum Library, with ancient folios and manuscripts. This cemented her love of both literature and history. Moving on to work in traditional publishing, scripting, reviewing, editing and publishing many articles and short stories.
Her books now alternate between fantasy and historical fiction, drama, mystery, adventure and romance, with a passion for medieval settings and historical accuracy.
Miss Gaskell Denvil’s work has been traditionally published by Simon & Schuster, but she now favours self-publishing as it gives the huge satisfaction of individual control. And personal choice of genre and artistic inspiration.
… with a few extra words:
Bannister’s Muster is my new project. This is a children’s series (for age group 8 to 14) based partially in the medieval shadows of old London, and partially in a fantasy world. Book 1 – Snap – is already out and Book 2 – Snakes and Ladders – will be published in late November.
The launch will be held in the Eltham Library, Melbourne, Australia, on 2nd December. Everyone is invited.
Sign up or follow Barbara Gaskell Denvil for news, review, historical, writing and research articles and more at her website or Facebook and Amazon author pages. Fair Weather and her other books are available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.
A free copy of Fair Weather was provided in exchange for an honest review.