Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Young Adult: Black Spring By Alison Croggon

I heard about Black Spring (Walker Books), a work of fantasy inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, at the Reading Matters Conference, where the author spoke, and decided to give it a go. I read Wuthering Heights for school and was curious to see what this author would make of it, so bought a copy.

First, the language: the author has done a very good job of getting that right. It reads pretty much like a 19th century book, to my eyes at least. The story is very similar to the original, with some changes. For example, Lina, the Cathy character, has no older brother and Damek, the Heathcliff of this novel, is related to the king and is imposed on the family. That makes a big difference to the storyline.

The technology is about the same, but the social structure is somewhat different. The north has its own royal family, which raises money by means of the Vendetta. Only those related to the ruler are exempt. If someone kills a person related to you, you must kill them and, in turn, be killed by someone in that family and, before you go off to commit your murder, you have to drop off some cash at the palace. Entire villages are wiped out because it's compulsory. If the royal coffers are low and nobody has a vendetta going, the king ensures one is started. Oh, and the victim not having a family doesn't prevent vendetta; in this case, the last family who hosted them must avenge the death.

Then there are the wizards, who don’t seem to do a lot apart from terrorizing villagers and issuing orders. On the other hand, if a girl is born with the violet eyes of a witch, she is killed. Presumably the wizards don’t want competition. Lina is a born witch, but the family move south for some years and then are allowed to move back without her destruction.

Interesting as all this is, I’m not sure that the Vendetta, at least, adds anything to the novel. If the author wanted to have a disaster in the village, a plague would surely have done the trick.

Despite all this, I’m sure Black Spring will have a lot of fans. It may do well for fantasy fans who aren’t ready to try the original. Those readers who, like me, have read the Bronte book, will have the fun of following the storyline and seeing how connected it is to the original. And I have to say that Lina is a somewhat more sympathetic character than Cathy: I have long thought that Cathy and Heathcliff are among fiction’s more obnoxious lovers, who thoroughly deserve each other. 

But as a YA novel, it really needs very good readers, the kind who could handle the original, and if they can handle Wuthering Heights, why not give them the original?

Still, it’s well worth a read and hopefully, anyone who discovers and enjoys Black Spring first will check out Wuthering Heights, and that can be no bad thing. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.

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