Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Darkhenge - Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher's Darkhenge is part of the Definitions series, meaning it's a book that can be read on two levels, like Fisher's Corbenic and Jonathan Stroud's The Leap. 14 year old Chloe has grown up in the shadow of her older, artistically-talented brother Rob. Her attempts to become a writer have gone largely unnoticed and Chloe has become quite resentful of the attention that Rob gets. Then one day, as she's out riding along the Ridgeway, Chloe has an accident near Falkener's Circle and as a result she has been in a coma for three months when the story opens. Chloe's mother, a BAFTA-winning actress is turning down work in order to keep a bedside vigil, leaving Rob and his theatre-manager father to the mercies of the Italian daily help.

One day Rob finds Chloe's diary and discovers something of the depth of her resentment of him. At more or less the same time, he gets caught up in a ritual at the Avebury Stone Circle, where a New Age group, the Cauldron Tribe, are trying to invoke the presence of a poet-shaman; he arrives, apparently from another world, in animal form and shape shifts several times until he takes human form, and Rob hauls him out of a flood ditch. He tells them to call him Vetch and as Rob gets to know him, Vetch tells Rob that he can help Chloe. He also reveals that the archaeological dig, on which Rob is being employed to draw their finds, is actually a portal to an underworld in which Chloe has become lost, having been taken there by the King of the Unworld, who wears seven masks made from the same materials as the seven Caers (castles) that protect the Unworld. Vetch offers to guide Rob through the Unworld, which they will enter via the Darkhenge portal by climbing down the inverted oak tree that is at its centre, enclosed by a ring of wooden posts.

Initially this story is told from the Rob's point of view (but in the third person), with Chloe's coma-thoughts appearing as first person dream-like prologues to each chapter. However, once Rob and Vetch enter the Unworld, the PoV switches between Chloe and Rob, and the chapter prologues focus on Father Mac, Rob's godfather and the family's spiritual advisor.

Vetches recognises that the Unworld they have entered is closely related to Chloe, the knowledge, memories and symbols which occupy her Unconscious, and in this world the trees of the surrounding forest are partially sentient, attacking each Caer, causing Chloe and the King to flee deeper into the Unworld.

When Rob and Vetch finally catch up with Chloe at the final Caer, he gets a shock. She doesn't want to be rescued, she wants to sit on the throne of Ceridwen at its centre, becoming Queen of the Unworld. But if she does so, her physical body will die. Rob, Vetch, Vetch's nemesis, Ceridwen, and even Father Mac do their utmost to talk her out of sitting on the throne; Father Mac appears in the Unworld in spirit form to talk to Chloe. Eventually Chloe agrees that Ceridwen can resume her role as Queen of the Unworld, and Vetch gives Chloe his crane-skin bag, containing his Ogham sticks, thereby equipping her to be a powerful writer.


Anonymous said...

Loved the book. Loved how we got Rob's view of his little sister, and then how little sister had a much different, and darker, view of their relationship.

Liz B. zyocaet.blogspot.com

Michele said...

Hi Liz

Yes that was very interesting. I've got a couple more of Fisher's books on my library TBR at the moment, and will borrow more in due course; they appear to be popular, judging by the number out on loan !