Monday, 6 October 2014

Celeste by Ann Evans, reviewed by Dennis Hamley

Megan Miller is devastated at leaving her home in South Shields and moving to Coventry. She has never been to Coventry in her life, as far as she knows, but she immediately feels that some things are very familiar to her, three church towers dominating the city, for example. Disoriented, she starts at her new school - and meets Freya, who has a curious resemblance to someone she knows very well yet has no recollection of meeting. And then there's Jamie Monkman, attractive and  interesting in other ways besides his good looks and the elaborate pattern cut into his hair. Freya laughingly tells Megan that Jamie thinks he's been on earth before and can remember being a a Viking, a monk, a Tudor weaver. But Megan does not laugh. And she's not laughing when she goes to the bombed-out ruin of the old Cathedral and has an overpowering feeling of fear and terror separate from the desolation of the miraculously still-standing remnants of a once beautiful building.

Celeste

Time-slip novels are very hard to get right. They are not arbitrary transferences just to set a story going. Even at their best, they need a willing suspension of disbelief, more so than in most other narrative forms, and they need a lot more than science-fiction machinery to be in any way convincing. First, the subject must be psychologically and emotionally vulnerable and therefore open to unexpected phenomena. Second, the subject must have a deep connection with the time into which she or he is to slip into, even if the connection is unconscious. And third and most important, the writing must be of such high quality as to take readers on a strange journey without protest, too involved with the power, persuasiveness and closeness to real human experience of the narrative, never questioning its reality and validity.

Celeste passes all these tests. Ann Evans's prose has clarity and tautness and transmits a wide range of feeling. I'm not going to give spoilers to the complex story which develops, except to say that it involves strange memories of previous lives - a sort of reincarnation - which eventually bring Megan not just to a sojourn in a long-ago age  but a disturbing confusion between two existences which seem to be happening almost simultaneously, bringing a genuine terror not just to her but to the reader. She is a major player in a medieval story deeply embedded into the history of Coventry, at the centre of which is a power object which may or may not have the special powers given to it by long-ago people but which must be kept out of the wrong hands in case it does. And Megan has the appalling suspicion that this story has reached out from eight hundred years into the present and is still continuing - and that the identity of her ancient scourge might involve someone close to her in the present day whom she trusts and likes.

The novel reaches a truly gripping climax and I closed the book feeling that I had read something which had touched me at several levels. It's intended for young adults and the cover, title and most of the main characters seem to point to it as being mainly for girls. But it isn't. Anybody, male or female, old or young, who likes history, the supernatural and fantasy based securely in recognisable, tangible and believable settings will love this. I did.

Celeste is available in paperback, published by Astraea Press. It is also available on Kindle
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Celeste-Ann-Evans-ebook/dp/