Folks, a miracle occurred this Channukah– after some months of limited reading time I did, in fact, read a book I bought! (I say this quietly so that the other books teetering on my bedside table don’t get jealous.) OK, when you get a book mailed to you from Australia, you actually do feel an obligation to spend a little quality time with it. I was looking after a dog for a bit, so Claire and I hung out for a few hours while she snored and I read Wakestone Hall.
So I am now in a position to tell you that Judith Rossell brings this series to a strong, courageous finish. I love you too much to tell you too much more about the ending– it is, as the title page proclaims, an “intrigue,” so it really would spoil things if I gave away the ending, but I want to tell you a bit about what to expect, and why it’s worth paying the shipping costs from Australia. (Well, apart from the fact that the shipping is incredibly efficient, the book is beautifully produced, and if you’ve read the first two volumes then you know you can trust Judith Rossell to deliver a fine story.)
First of all, let’s chat about characters. I love characters who grow and develop and unfold in unexpected ways. Judith Rossell does this, but she does so with care, never letting the development happen too violently or leaving you blinking your eyes and wondering where the hell that outburst came from. Stella is brave and resourceful– but we know that as of Withering-by-Sea, so watching her courage develop is not unanticipated; her skills, as they grow, are just that– skills being exercised– not wonky changes that leave us wondering where the original Stella went.
I’m harping on about this because I think it’s a very tenuous line, drawing a believable character who nevertheless grows and changes. Not that a character has to grow to be believable and readable, either. Consider Dickens: his caricatures are quite as fascinating as his more “realistic” characters. Uriah Heep, for example, is as memorable or more so than, for example, Emily, or even David himself. Well, Wakestone Hall abounds in delicious characters who are crystallized in their own literary form: wait until you meet the Garnets, or Miss Mangan! They are (alas) unredeemable, but you don’t want them to be; they are as they are.
Judith Rossell is skillful enough to handle both styles of character, and these characters interact in a world both familiar and strange, old-fashioned yet startlingly original, magical but eerily realistic. As the reader, you get to know the characters and the world, and the plot is simply a byproduct of what must necessarily occur as these characters move through their world. Stella is not a girl who would let a cat cry outside her window without seeking to comfort it. Ottilie may be small, but her courage is big– of course she would seek help when– enh, I won’t say more. You’ll find out.
What I hope I’m conveying here is the organic, natural evolution of Stella’s character and her story. Yes, this is genre fiction, not “realist” fiction (whatever that may be– a debate for another day), but it unfolds as realistically and logically as Dickens or Tolstoy. Or as any other great children’s book– The Incorrigibles or Penderwicks or Cassons, or many other novels. Why not? The rules of the Stella Montgomery universe are there, and the author obeys them; isn’t that exactly what an author should do, magic or not?
I’ll sum up (I’m writing briefly today both to keep myself from spoiling the plot and because I need to bike home!): Judith Rossell has written one of the most compelling and believable fantasy narratives I’ve read lately. And I’ve read many good ones– so many that I feel a Fantasy Post coming on. This trilogy is exceptional, well worth ordering the final installment from Australia. The characters will live with you, the world and its environment are eerie and just a little too close to our reality to be entirely comfortable, and the plot will keep you turning the pages. Read them all, in order, and really– this note is directed to my husband– DO NOT skip ahead!
And if you do read them, please tell me what you think! Happy reading.