Friday, 5 December 2014

The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins

The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins is the first novel I've read by the author, though I did enjoy a novella collection of hers earlier in the year. I can also definitely state it won't be the last novel I read by the author. I should also note I read it as an audiobook borrowed from the library
Berlin in autumn: Christine Starlight lives in an artists' colony with her lover Jude, whose patience and beauty have eased her battle with chronic pain. But Christine begins to be haunted by childhood recollections of a little girl's disappearance and the flapping of a blackbird's wings. Then her world is rocked by the return of a childhood friend...

Mayfridh rules over a land where a wolf is the queen's counsellor, fate turns on the fall of an autumn leaf and mortals feel no pain. As Christine becomes addicted to Mayfridh's world, so Mayfridh grows addicted to Christine's, falling dangerously in love with Jude.
The Autumn Castle is sort of a portal fantasy in that there is the real world (Berlin in the early 00s) and there is fairyland, but a larger part of the action takes place in the real world. It's also more of a character driven story than a lot of the books I've read recently. There's no Quest and the world doesn't need saving from the start. There is a Bad Guy but several of the other characters are of dubious morality at one point or another. There are secrets, lies and conflicting desires. At a few points, I honestly wasn't sure how some issues were going to be resolved.

Christine is probably the easiest character to like. She means well and not in an offensively misguided way like some of the other characters. The chronic pain aspect was also a nice layer and I liked how it was portrayed in the book. It was something Christine was always aware of and something she wanted to avoid having define her.

The other characters were more difficult to like. Mandy, the serial fairy killer, was obviously reprehensible and irredeemable from the start. The sections from his point of view — mostly extracts from his memoires — are suitable icky and I enjoyed the way they were read in a German accent. In fact, most of the accents were pretty good in the audiobook although I was probably least convinced by the US accents of Christine and her boyfriend.

Mayfridh was an interesting character but one I increasingly lost respect for, especially towards the end. Having lived in fairyland for most of her life as a princess and then a queen, she's quite spoiled and, when she first comes to the real world, naïve about how things work. Both traits evolve as the book progresses but there were many reasons I wanted to tell her off towards the end.

The secondary characters all added significantly to the story and I appreciated the layers of complexity which we learnt as the story progressed. Several people turned out to be not quite what they seemed and there were a couple of revelations I really didn't see coming. A well-crafted story. And I liked the fairytale epilogue at the end. That was nice.

I highly recommend The Autumn Castle to fans of character-driven fantasy books. I think readers who usually don't read much fantasy would also enjoy it since, although the fantasy element is inextricable from the plot, the character-driven narrative is the more complex aspect. Assuming you like that sort of thing, anyway. There are some dark elements, so be warned: vicious murder and light torture within (but no rape, if that helps). The Autumn Castle is the first book in a "suite" of three unrelated novels (set in the same universe? I'm not even sure) and I intend to read the next one in the near future (probably as an audiobook as well; I have it in paper on another continent).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2002, Harper Voyager (Bolinda Audio 2012 narrated by Richard Aspel) Series: Standalone but also the first of the Europa Suite
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Borrowed from the library
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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