August 28, 2013

Review: Black Spring

Black Spring By Alison Croggon
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

I was sold on BLACK SPRING quite quickly.  Emily Brontë's WUTHERING HEIGHTS updated with magic and Albanian vendetta culture, done by an acclaimed fantasy author?   I'm not the biggest fan of WURTHERING HEIGHTS, but I can see how a blood feud and a bit of wizardry would punch it up.

Unfortunately, BLACK SPRING hews extremely close to its inspiration. The frame story is the same, only providing a bit of interest when visitor Hammel completely disregards maid Anna's tale at the end.  Alison Croggon's best addition is adding a more obvious feminist text, as witch Lina struggles with the men in her life seeking to possess her or end her.  Unfortunately, it's hard to side with her declaration of proud independence when she's ignoring someone trying to get her to come along lest she be killed.

As for the vendetta element, it is completely useless.  (And why use the Italian word instead of the Albanian one, when this is clearly an Albanian influence?)  As they are related to royalty, Lina (Catherine) and Damek (Heathcliff) cannot be directly touched by the vendetta.  And while it comes to the town, I'm not sure when the blood feud ended, or if it ever did, which is just sloppy.  The narrator Anna is affected, but since her focus is on Lina and Damek's story, she doesn't get to go into much depth about her loss.

The existence of witches and wizards isn't used much better.  It highlights tension between male and female power in the country, but it is ultimately unimportant compared to hitting the beats of WURTHERING HEIGHTS exactly.  It's a shame, because Croggon is a wonderful writer and the bit of her world she builds is fascinating.  I'd love to see a story about this country, kept under control by the king's wizards negotiating the many blood feuds, that isn't devoted to retelling a story that has little to do with politics or magic.

I think I might be kinder to BLACK SPRING if I had never read Diana Peterfreund's FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS.  Now that is how you marry a classic to a totally different genre.  Croggon is a talented writer, so it isn't an unpleasant reading experience, but it's one that follows the original to slavishly.  BLACK SPRING doesn't truly transform WURTHERING HEIGHTS, just offers a few stage trappings attempting to mask the moors of Brontë.

10 comments:

  1. I'm sorry this wasn't as great as you were hoping! I've never read Wuthering Heights, but I don't really have the motivation too either. hah

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    1. I'm certainly not going to give you the motivation.

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  2. Oh, for some reason I'd forgotten this was a retelling of Wuthering Heights. It's been ages since I read that, though, so would I enjoy it more with vague recollections of the original? I haven't tried FDSTS yet either...

    Thanks for the review, though, I'm very curious to see how this fares with other reviewers, too.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. I haven't read it since high school, but remember it quite well since I took a test on it.

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  3. I was kind of excited about this one, but I agree that I prefer retellings that take more liberties with the plot than those that follow it too closely. And now I need to check out your link about Albanian revenge culture, which sounds intriguing.

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    1. It's just Wikipedia, but still interesting.

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  4. I DNFed this one twenty pages in, and I am SO glad I did. This was the most pathetic attempt at a retelling. Well, maybe not MOST. Some of them are pathetic in not really retelling a damn thing, which is probably worse, but this one literally retold, while adding a couple of surface level supernatural things, which seem like they really didn't work. For Darkness Shows the Stars is a great example of the retelling done right.

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    1. Well, the first twenty pages are the worst. It gets better once Anna starts narrating; I'd probably cut Hammel completely. But yeah . . . this one's concept needed tweaking.

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  5. Since you say this is so similar to WH, I'm definitely skipping it. I hate that book so much and don't want to be reminded of it in the other books I choose to read.

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    1. Glad I'm not the only WH hater. I just do not get that book's fandom.

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