"A subtle fantasy of searching for family"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted December 23, 2015
Iranor walks on the beach, an Immortal among the people in
these early days of the world. She meets a fisherman
mourning his brother lost at sea and asks him to teach her
what it means to be mortal. Sue Bridgwater & Alistair
McGechie have created a lovely fantasy reminiscent of
the Earthsea books by Ursula LeGuin and the Celtic
of the Fianna in SHADOWS OF THE TREES.
Kor-Sen is a small boy who lives with his mother Berget, a
weaver, in a hot, busy town. When they are attacked because
there is no man in the family, they move to a leather
worker's home in a different quarter and try to carry on
with life. But Kor-Sen's curiosity has been awakened and he
starts to ask questions about why he doesn't have a father.
He is taught to read runes along with a girl who is taught
in secret as the temple priests forbid educating girls.
Meanwhile, Drewin and Saranna, the children of Iranor and
her now-dead fisherman, are playing under the trees on the
Isle of the East - but they are not immortal, and weapons
can harm them as they are to discover when they travel to
the mortal world.
The separate journeys of the three young people form a
richly woven coming of age story, walking us among undersea
denizens, showing us the humble life of fishing folks and
elucidating the secretive ways of the Temple and Academy.
Kor-Sen learns to seize opportunities, make life twist to
his wishes. Saranna, like most women with few choices, goes
through life accepting her fate and letting others decide
her actions. Drewin learns about fraternal relationships
and cunning. Each one meets and loses friends, and finds
themself at the end of a journey changed from the start.
I enjoy that this fantasy departs from the usual heroic
quest or fight against evil. We see people choosing paths
in the dawn of the world. While we do not see magic worked,
the fight against fate, demi-god heritage and circumstance
is quite vivid enough to draw us in to the characters'
lives. Locations include a semi-sentient forest and an
underworld, so contrast and creativity abound. This is the
first story in the Skorn series by Sue Bridgwater &
Alistair McGechie and after reading the gently worded
SHADOWS OF THE TREES you can look forward to another tale
to be called THE DRY WELL. Fantasy readers who want
something different to the usual run of sword and sorcery
novels should enjoy the series.
On a hidden island in the far western sea, two children are
the goddess Iranor and her mortal lover.
In the city of Sen-Mar, a boy is born fatherless, and he
mother are condemned as apostates.
These three children are fated to wander as exiles over the
Skorn, seeking peace and consolation.
From island to island, oversea and undersea, through
grasslands, they seek what they have lost.
ExcerptIn days long ago the Immortals walked freely among the people; and there
came a day when
Iranor wandered alone upon the white sands of the Isle of Esmil. She
strolled along the beach,
picking up shells, stopping to watch the seabirds diving, enjoying the
warmth of the sun upon
her face. Rounding a headland into a quiet cove, she came upon a young
his nets, who sang as he worked. Then the Lady stood still in wonder, for
it seemed to her that
she had never seen any of humankind so fair as this young man. He was tall
and strong; golden
curls tumbled about his brow, and when he looked up at the Lady she saw
that his eyes were
bluer than the summer sky. She smiled at him as he rose to his feet.
‘Greetings, My Lady Iranor,’ he said.
‘Greetings to you, fisherman.’ Iranor drew nearer and inspected the huge
rents in the fishing
nets. ‘You have great labour here.’
‘It has been a bad night, My Lady, for us fisher folk. Two men died in the
storm - and one was
‘Your brother? But that is terrible - how brave you are to go on with your
work, to sit here
beside the waves, and sing.’ She laid a hand on his arm, but he pulled away
‘Do you not know, My Lady, what song it was I sang? No, how would an
Immortal know about
mourning and lamentation? That was Seren's funeral song, and I sang it here
by the sea because
I may not lay his body to rest in the earth; and I sang over my work
because now I must work
twice as hard to provide for our mother and for Seren's widow and child.
But these are things
you would not know!
Iranor stood shocked and silent as the young man turned away from her and
began to gather up
the nets. Although he tried to hide his face, she could see that there were
tears in his eyes. She
moved closer to him again, gently touching his shoulder. ‘What is your
He did not answer. ‘I am sorry that I have hurt you - please tell me your
He looked over his shoulder at her, and muttered, ‘Derren.’
‘Please listen to me, Derren. I seek only to help. You and your people are
my charge and my
care; I feel for your sorrow and share your grief.’
Derren shook his head, turned to face the lady, and spoke quietly. ‘Oh Lady
Iranor - I do not
doubt your care. But you speak to me of the sea and of storms, of the
immortal mother who
moves in the waves, and there is no comfort for me in such great themes. My
brother is dead,
My Lady - Seren is gone, and I shall never hear his voice again or see him
smile. His wife lies
weeping in the bed they shared, my mother is silent with misery. You cannot
this, you whose children live forever and rule all the lands of Skorn. You
do not understand.’
Before Iranor could think how to answer him, he went on; ‘You come into our
homes, you share
in our festivals and we love you for it. But there are troubles in our
lives, pain that you do not
truly share. We cannot feel you among us when we stand beside the graves of
She stretched out her hand towards him and Derren stepped forward to meet
her. She was
quiet and serious, and looked into his face with sombre eyes. ‘Forgive me,
Derren, and help me.’
‘I? How can I help you, Lady of the West Wind?’
‘You have done so already, by your words to me; but tell me more - tell me,
Derren, what is it to
Derren's profound silence lasted for only a moment. Then he burst into a
gale of laughter,
startling Iranor so that she jumped backwards away from him, and stood
staring in amazement.
‘What - Derren, what are you laughing at? What can you be laughing at?’
‘I am sorry - it is discourteous of me. But can you not see how foolish
this is? Did you not, lady
Iranor, shape our mortal flesh out of the shadows of the forest trees? For
so the old wise
women of my village tell us as they weave their cloth and their tales. How
can you ask to learn
Iranor took his hands in hers and spoke eagerly. ‘Yes, Derren, I am asking
you. For you were
right to tell me how little I know. I am old as the world of Skorn, yet I
know nothing of love, of
mortal birth, of death – of the things you know. You must teach me; come
with me now and we
will be together on the Isle of the West Wind, so that I may learn from
Derren frowned. ‘But what of my mother and my widowed sister? Who will care
for them if I
‘Have no fear: they will be cared for. And you will return.’
‘Then - if I have your promise, Lady - I will come with you.’
Iranor folded Derren in her arms and bore him away with her to the Isle of
the West Wind, and
the people of Esmil mourned him as dead, not knowing what had become of
What do you think about this review?
1 comment posted.
Re: A subtle fantasy of searching for family
Thank you Clare for this excellent review of 'Shadows of the
Trees', it shows so much understanding of our work.
I would just like to mention that this is the second novel
of Skorn, the first is 'Perian's Journey' which had its 2nd
Edition in 2014. The paperback of 'Shadows' has some
reviews of 'Perian' on its back cover.
(Sue Bridgwater 6:14am December 30, 2015)
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