by Louise Bohmer
Library of Horror Press (2009)
Sometimes discovering an author feels like you've found a bit of treasure, especially when the author hails from the same region as you. Such is the case with reading The Black Act by Louise Bohmer (a fellow Atlantic Canadian).
In her debut novel, she weaves an intricate story set in a mythological world inspired by Celtic folklore. Bohmer cites some of her influences as Tolkien and Lovecraft, which become apparent with her deft ability at world building. I'm not a guy who goes for the Tolkien kind of stuff, myself. I had presumed this novel had a more contemporary setting in which the mythical characters would appear, but it's firmly entrenched in that other-worldliness of so many epic fantasies. Two things helped me in getting over my prejudices towards the genre, as Bohmer's tale carries an undertone of horror and is a remarkably quick read.
The story starts out with twin sisters, Anna and Claire, who seem poised to relive a family curse involving satyrs (wonderfully rendered as beings made from the very earth they inhabit) and other Wood People (the mythical creatures that populate the land). As members of the Wise Women (a sect in the human Dalthwein clans), they're training to become witches, but forces are at work to disrupt them and exploit a generations old curse known as the Black Act in order to reignite a war. While Claire engages in a secret relationship with a satyr that carries a foreboding sense of history about to repeat itself, Anna starts having violent dreams of their ancestors that could hold the key to their preservation. Or their ruination.
The relationship between the twins with its turmoil and empathy was probably the biggest hook for me--not to mention the wonderful array of creatures brought into the story from folklore. And they are grand in the sense that they harken to a truer interpretation of mythology instead of the homogenized children tales provided by Disney. But the story tends to dip and dive from past to present and between point of views, as the twins' ancestors have their stories told as well. For a book that clocks in at 226 pages, I would have preferred the focus honed in on the two sisters. Fantasies do like to take a broader scope, however, and the backstory involving Anna's and Claire's ancestors does add some meat to the bone. In fact, those storylines set in the past have a habit of stealing the show.
The Black Act offers a solid debut effort from an author with an inarguable passion and deft talent at making fairy tales more tangible than what I'm used to. And I think it speaks to the potential of her future work when the biggest gripe I have about the book is the choice of font--Courier was an odd choice for a dark fantasy. If you're into reading fantasies with a darker bent than most, you might want to consider this one.