The presence of women (or of people of colour, or any other so-called minority) in fantasy narratives remains controversial, and the fantasy genre is still too prone to white them out as decorative, characterless, generic extras, if indeed they are held to exist at all. The excuses given for what is actually lack of imagination (this is fantasy, right?) or plain bad writing often come down to so-called “historical accuracy”: writing about sexist worlds means that it’s perfectly acceptable for writing to be sexist. In Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, author Foz Meadows magisterially takes this idea down and shows it for the shabby, historically inaccurate laziness it is.
You can read the rest here (and read Foz Meadows's zing of a post while you're at it). And there's also a nice review from Vivienne, in which she says: "Anyone who can turn my most hated read into an excellent enjoyable book is definitely an author to be explored further." There seem to be two schools of thought on Black Spring, among those readers who like it: those who love Wuthering Heights and therefore enjoy my spin on Bronte, and those who hate Wuthering Heights, and therefore enjoy my spin on Bronte. I never realised that it was such a polarising book!
From the "I love Wuthering Heights" school come two new UK reviews, which particularly pleased me because they are by people who are clearly very intimate with Bronte's original. Erin Johnson is in the second year of her DPhil in English at the University of Oxford, studying representations of masculinity in the Bronte's writing, and so may be said to know her onions. On her blog Oxford Erin, she has a look at Black Spring, and gives it a terrific thumbs up along the way.
It's a bit difficult for me to write about - because I love the source text so much, because I also have literary critical opinions about the novel and how its works, and because Croggon's take probably fits into the Neo-Victorian genre (think A.S. Byatt's Possession), a genre which often creates complex intertextual links with Victorian novels and which I have researched and written on in the past year.Of course, like all authors, I am delighted when someone enjoys my books; but what delights me most of all is when a reader picks what you did, and why you did it. This is one of those reviews that does exactly that. As does Beth Kemp's, on her blog Thoughts from the Hearthfire. Beth writes: "Wuthering Heights with Wizards! No, I couldn't believe it when I read that either, but I loved it. Much of the darkness and strangeness, the ethereality of Wuthering Heights is captured through the fantasy elements in this retelling, while the romance is brought more clearly into focus... this version is uncannily similar and yet still its own. All the way through, there are episodes and details which mirror the original and were an absolute delight to me."
That said, there are two important things you can take away from this review.
1) This is a fantastic book.
2) In my opinion, it is also a respectful, critical, fascinating reworking of Wuthering Heights. If you like Bronte's novel, I suspect you will enjoy Croggon's too.
Thanks for the lovely responses; and maybe I'll just swing a bottle of champers against a bookshelf or something and officially declare the UK Black Spring launched!