Hello. Fats here.
Today’s post for our theme on Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras features Murkmere, the first of two books by Patricia Elliott in her Murkmere Hall series. The book cover and the synopsis on the front jacket flap of the book caught my attention so I grabbed it from one of the shelves in Book Off San Diego. (Note: Bargain-priced books always win.)
Murkmere tells the story of fifteen-year-old Agnes Cotter who leaves her village and travels to Murkmere manor where she is to become a lady’s companion to Miss Leah, the Master’s ward. Agnes not only wants to make her life better by working at the manor. She also hopes that she would learn something about her deceased mother who used to work at Murkmere before Agnes was born.
I was fastening the latch on the window again when the door burst open and a girl marched in.
“If you think you’re to be my companion, you’re mistaken,” she announced. “You might as well pack up your things again and go home.”
She could only be Miss Leah.
Aggie—as Agnes was fondly called in the book—soon learns that life at the manor is not quite what she had imagined. Worse, Miss Leah, Aggie’s mistress, is wild, moody, and has a strange bond with the swans at Murkmere. As the men and women of Murkmere Hall—including the Master’s trusted steward, Silas Seed—make preparations for Miss Leah’s sixteenth birthday, Aggie finds herself entangled in a web of mystery, dark plots, and strange secrets that no village girl could imagine.
I enjoyed reading Murkmere more than I thought I would. The thought of it being a cheesy YA novel did not even cross my mind. Patricia Elliott’s writing reminded me of F.E. Higgins’ magical storytelling. The darkness and the evil that surround Murkmere Hall are felt throughout the story. I’ll try not to delve so much into this so I don’t ruin the story for you, in case you decide to grab a copy of the book.
The most fascinating aspect of Murkmere is the people’s obsession on birds. Maybe “obsession” is not the proper way to describe it. After all, the people in the book believed in birds the way some of us believed in god/s. They have their own bible (Table of Significance) and prayer meeting (Devotion). They believe in the Great God that takes the form of the Eagle who would, at all costs, punish the avia—men who wished to have wings so they may fly like the gods—as well as those that rebelled against him. The stories told during Devotion are stories we are familiar with: stories of light versus darkness, except in their belief it was the birds of light (robin, wren, swallow, martin, lark) versus the birds of night (crow, raven, jackdaw, magpie, owl).
This kind of belief should not come as a surprise not so much because such a religion exists but because for centuries people looked at birds as nature’s messengers. In HubPages, kittythedreamer talks a little about Birds as Omens and Signs. In my reading of Murkmere, I could not help but be reminded of the three-eyed raven that appeared in Bran Stark’s dreams in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Murkmere’s cover sort of gives you an idea of what the story might also be about, but do not let it fool you.
I enjoyed reading Murkmere because there are so many things in the book that reminded me of other books. I thought of the Ministry of Magic in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series upon the mention of the Ministration. I smiled when the book spoke of the militia and the rebels because Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There came to mind. And even though I have not read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games yet, the Capital reminded me of the Capitol in the books. The similarities probably end in the mere spelling of the words but I like to be reminded of other wonderful stories when reading a particular book. Don’t you?
In her introductory note, Patricia Elliott wrote,
“Perhaps there is a Leah at some time in everyone’s life: unpredictable, demanding, most generous best friend, cruelest enemy…
I imagined a girl wandering beneath the dark oak trees – a girl, half-wild, shut away and bored, who was waiting for her story to begin.
The girl became Leah, and Leah’s story begins when Aggie comes to Murkmere.”
That’s exactly what it felt like to me. Although the book was written in third-person and told through the eyes of Aggie, Murkmere is Leah’s story. Leah also happens to be my favorite character in the book. She reminds me of two fierce, wild, and cunning women I love: Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Arya Stark of Winterfell from A Song of Ice and Fire series. I like that Leah does not wear an amulet because she is not a blind believer like the people around her. Moreover, I think the little rebel in me rejoices in Leah’s own rebellious ways and free-spiritedness.
Murkmere does not directly talk about creatures but speaks a great deal about evil. It is the evil that lurks within the hearts of men, that which is more monstrous than any monster or more beastly than any beast imaginable. While I was not left hanging after reading the book, I believe that whatever questions the readers think are left unanswered in the book could be discussed further in sequels. A second book had already been published. Ambergate deviates from Leah’s story and focuses on Scuff, one of the servants in Murkmere Hall. I did not see a third book yet, but I do hope that Patricia Elliott writes one for she has a talent for writing about characters that are memorable in their own ways.