Timothy Roderick is the author of four non-fiction books on Wicca and Paganism. (You can read about three of these books -- Wicca A Year and a Day, Wicca: Another Year and A Day, and The Once Unknown Familiar -- here on Facing North.) In April of 2015 he published his first novel, Briar Blackwood's Grimmest of Fairytales. Targeted at older teens to adults, this is a typical Book 1 for any aspiring genre series, albeit with a quirky sense of its own that may stand out from the pack over time.

The early beats of the story are straight from the manual. Young woman, doesn't fit in, bad home situation, boy trouble. Magic world intersection! Scary altercation that no one around her sees or understands. Her fear is dismissed by incredulous mundanes. Then, a meeting with magical folk. There's trouble in magic land, and our intrepid heroine just might be at the center of it all.

So, ok, when you're setting up a genre series (YA modern fantasy in this case) you're going to tread on some familiar territory at least at the beginning. What saves Briar Blackwood (actually and in the meta sense) is the appearance of her magical guides: Myrtle, Briar, and the rest. The authentic sense of otherness surrounding these characters evokes Mrs. Who, Which, and Whatsit from Madelieine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which is no small feat at all. Scenes involving these characters are wildly successful at building the world that Roderick envisions, something that his more mundane scenes lack. Briar's home life, for example, is clearly meant to evoke a classical sense of fairy-tale awfulness, but they are juuuuust grounded enough that they are instead legitimately unsettling to a point just shy of needing a trigger warning. Perhaps this is the author's intent, in which case he can chalk it up to an artistic success, but the effect is still more uncomfortable than engaging.

This debut novel clearly benefits from Roderick's previous experience as an author while still bearing many of the creaks and strains you expect from a first outing. I can mildly recommend it on its own, as much because I expect that future stories in the series will reward your initial investment.

~review by John Casker

Author: Timothy Roderick
Lodestone Books; 2015
272 pages

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