Thursday, February 8, 2018

Book Review: 'A White Horizon' by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Australian author Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in England with a heritage rich in artists and writers (‘the classic Victorian author Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell was a great, great, great aunt) and she offers in her bio, ‘I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. My first marriage produced my three lovely daughters but ended with the death of my husband. Many adventures later, I met an Italian, fell in love, and spent 16 glorious years with him exploring Europe and sailing the Mediterranean. When he died I needed a place of solace, came to live in rural Australia, and began writing full-length novels for the first time. My solace has now become my passion.’ That passion has produced eight major novels, many of them set in 15th century England, yet this new book A WHITE HORIZON takes us into the Nordic realm.

As a reader new to Barbara’s artistry the initial reaction is the discovery that her prose is extended poetry in flavor. She has a natural grace with words, especially when dealing with describing nature – a major character in this particular novel: ‘With the blizzard from the west like wolf’s teeth through the black tide and the churning rain threatening to close off all visibility as far as the crag-drop, Ogot knew, as he had known months ago but had refused to admit, that it was time for rare patience and not for common temper. Unswervingly attached to a belief in his own natural control over everything within his realm including the weather and the oceans current, he had long denied the possibility that anyone else, especially including his daughter, could ever thwart him. But life had not always worked out the way it should have, and now if he wanted his daughter dead, he would have to arrange it after winter had paled into soggy spring when, braving the milder tides, the first boats would come home at last. Winter should be waning by now and spring was surely close. The first gentle breezes were due in from the western seas yet it rained strenuously for six more days.’ Mellifluous writing such as this is too seldom seen today.

But on to the story – as full of the Nordic flavor as possible: ‘Skarga has grown up on the outskirts of the frozen north, with her five brothers and father, all of whom believe she is cursed, bringing poor harvests and bad luck into their lives. She is unwanted except for the small abandoned boy, Egil, she has rescued from the snow. But now they are in great danger. Hearing that her father is arranging their murder, they escape the township into the harsh and bitter cold. The trap is sprung and the escape fails, but her captor is not who she expected. The mystery deepens as it seems the boy is the one Thodden has been searching for, and not her at all. So Egil holds the clues to the secrets and magic. Skarga will do everything she can to protect him, but there is more than one life at stake and neither knows or understands the change that is about to occur.’

Rich is character development, offering insights into Nordic life painted with a sturdy brush of fantasy, Barbara delivers an adventure worthy of a continuing series. She is a richly gifted writer. Grady Harp, June 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.