Lina is enchanting, vibrant but wilful. And her eyes betray her for what she truly is – a witch. With her childhood companion, Damek, she has grown up privileged and spoilt and the pair are devoted to each other to the point of obsession. But times are changing. Vendetta is coming. And tragedy is stalking the halls of the Red House.
A stunning new novel by Alison Croggon, inspired by the Gothic classic Wuthering Heights.
Black Spring is to Wuthering Heights what Wide Sargasso Sea is to Jane Eyre. That is: thank goodness for the modern eye that provides a fresh perspective to 19th century Brontë-ian literature. However, while Wide Sargasso Sea provides the untold backstory of the woman in the attic, Black Spring reimagines Emily Brontë’s world as a place of magic as well as violence.
As in Wuthering Heights, the reader is introduced to the northern English moors through the perspective of a wealthy man from the south. Hammel seeks rest and a writerly retreat in the north, but when he meets his peculiar landlord and has a paranormal encounter, he becomes intent on discovering the history of the house’s occupants. The housekeeper, Anna, obliges him with her tale.
It is here that the story truly begins. I realise that Croggon is mimicking the framework of Wuthering Heights as well as the plot, but as a reader it is Anna’s perspective that is engaging and thought-provoking. I felt Hammel to be nothing but the bread on either side of what is an otherwise meaty sandwich.
Anna is a woman out of time. Although a servant, she is the milk-sister and childhood companion of the royal-blooded Lina. She is educated, and treated with respect. Her account of the lives and relationship of Lina and Damek is peppered with poignant observations about life in the north, and the inequalities afforded to women. It is this subtly-challenging and much-needed feminist perspective that makes me want to staple Black Springs onto every copy of Wuthering Heights currently sitting in a bookshop.
In Croggon’s moors, the people are ruled by Royalty and Wizards. These men together decide the law of the land, and oversee the uniquely-northern phenomenon of vendetta:
It begins with the murder of a man (the murder of a woman is considered a crime against property, not against honour). After a murder there is forty days’ truce; then the man deemed responsible for the crime may be killed at any time. The murderer must pay in two ways: with the Blood Tax, and with his life. His death must be at the hands of the victim’s nearest male relation. Once the killer is slain, however, the avenger must in turn pay for his crime, the second murder sparking the third, and so on.
– p 85
Also in the north, witches are killed as babies… except Lina. Her existence sparks an ongoing political battle, which brings Lina and Derek together but is also doomed to tear them apart. This is the core of Black Springs – an examination of friendship and belonging, and the destruction of individuals by circumstance. Black Spring could be a fascinating and endlessly useful classroom resource – touching on themes of identity, power, place, as well as social rights and equality.
NB: The image here does not do the cover justice – in reality the eyes are a glossy lilac, providing a fittingly eery feel to the text.