Jan. 6th, 2017

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Another book from last year in the form of Paul Cornell's Lost Child of Lychford. Set a few months after The Witches of Lychford, it follows the three main characters in the run up to Lizzie Blackmore's first Christmas as vicar of the small Cotswold village of Lychford.

While Lizzy is busy preparing for her first Christmas, she sees the ghost of a child in her church. When she takes the problem to Judith Mawson, the village's wise woman, Lizzie discovers that the spectre is a doppleganger; the spirit of a child in trouble, whose presence may indicate the presence of a curse. As Judith investigates further, the group's enemy strikes at her directly, neutralising its most dangerous adversary and leaving Lizzie and Autumn Blunstone, the dippy proprietrix of the village's magic shop, to sort things out for themselves.

As with the first book in the series, Lost Child of Lychford begins as a comedy only to rapidly turn into something much darker. The main characters are all beautifully drawn, making their decent into madness seem all the more harrowing. And although the madness is magically induced, it has all the hallmarks of mental illness: the characters' self-harming actions and odd behaviours seem normal to their own minds, although they have brief moments of lucidity when they realise that something is very wrong; but from the outside perpective of the reader, it is painfully apparent just badly how they've lost contact with reality.

The details of the village feel spot on and, as might be expected from someone whose wife is a parish priest, Cornell is particularly good on the stresses of being a vicar at Christmas. For no matter how stressful things might be for the rest of us not only is Christmas the busiest moment in the church calendar, but they also have to deal with rampant commercialism of one of their high festivals and the the associated problem that everyone seems to have their own platonic ideal of a proper Christmas church service which often doesn't match the Anglican Church's idea — after the Advent carol service, one of Lizzie's flock, having struggled their way through the music, remarks, "I like Silent Night, but perhaps that's a bit too popular for you." Ouch.

Lost Child is a delightful from start to finish: it has humour, horror, and victory over evil; it's short, punchy, and wonderfully observed. It's very much a sequel to the first book and probably shouldn't be read first — familiarity with the characters and their circumstances is needed to maximise the emotional punch — but Witches isn't long, so there aren't any good excuses for starting here.

Highly recommended.

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