By Jan Siegel
Another old review of mine unearthed from quite a few years ago (I think this even predates my Alien Online reviews and was penned for my first ever website, The Library of Dreams, it was, the debut fantasy novel by Jan Siegel, one of those books I just knew as soon as I picked it up, knowing nothing about it, but somehow knew it would be good. My book radar rarely fails me and in this case it was spot on, a superb work:
An ancient house on the Yorkshire moors is left to sixteen-year-old Fern’s father upon the death of its occupant, her distant uncle, and old sailor. Fern is suspicious of Alimond, a woman she suspects is more than she seems, and is interested in her father. With their father away on business often, Fern and her younger brother Will are left for much of the summer in the mysterious old home, exploring the many strange objects gathered from around the world by their late uncle.
After nightfall the old country house becomes stranger. Fern is sure she has seen something lurking in the shadows of the hall, and each night comes the sounds of some unknown creature snuffling around outside the house, as if seeking a way in. This nocturnal noise is so frightening that Fern finds herself unable to leave her bed and look out the window, instead lying in dread, waiting for the dawn, trying to convince herself it was only a badger. In the daylight she and her brother seek out the footprints of the nocturnal visitor, but none are to be found in the soft earth. At the end of the garden, on the edge of the moors is a rock, shaped like a sitting man, which seems to come and go of its own volition.
Alimond comes to stay and the mysterious creature gains entrance to the house. As most know, magical creatures may only enter homes when invited, so is it in league with Alimond, who seems to be searching their uncle’s belongings for a mysterious object? As the tale progresses we find the rock is indeed a man, Ragginbone, an ancient wizard who has spent his power. With him appears Lougarry, a large dog, who may or may not be a werewolf now trapped in canine form. When the nocturnal creature attacks, Lougarry defends Fern and Will stoutly. As they explore carefully, treading their path through an invisible maze almost as impenetrable as the mists on the Yorkshire moors, they discover that Alimond seeks a key, a key that opens the Door to the otherworld, to Death itself. Her ambition is so blinding she is allied her magical powers with an ancient and malevolent spirit entity, both seeking the key to open the door, and also to reach back through time to find the Lodestone, lost when Atlantis was taken by the waves. A wave of magical events is unleashed and Fern must cross the portal back into per-history to Atlantis to try and make things right, with only her own growing Gift to protect and guide her.
On the surface you may be tempted to mistake this first-time author’s novel for a typical piece of genre fantasy writing. It has strange creatures, magic, witches, Unicorns, lost lands … But this is a wonderfully written tale, literally enchanting, with an excellent atmosphere – try reading the part with the unseen night creature trying to gain access to the house, or the statue talking, in bed at night and feel the hairs on your neck rise … Having a sixteen-year-old girl as the heroine works very well, and Siegel deftly mixes her magical mystery with a tale of a young girl growing into womanhood in a family without a mother, coming to terms with her adulthood while also realising she too has the magical Gift … This is a gorgeous novel, entrancing, it will draw you in like a magical web. It should appeal especially to readers of Marion Zimmer Bradley (alas, recently deceased) and Anne McCaffrey. Intelligent, thoughtful and imaginative – the best fantasy work I have read this year.