So imagine my surprise and delight when recently the author herself contacted me asking if I'd review her newest book, which happens to be Crowfield-related. It was a lot of surprise. And a lot of delight. I may have looked a little something like this:
Of course I said A;SDKFAD;LFSJ YES OMG YES I WILL DO THIS (only, you know, more coherently) and she sent me the book and I'll say THANK YOU right here and everything else in the review down below.
The Hob and the Deerman by Pat Walsh
Pros: Fey and ghosts and monsters; well-researched; has some really beautiful imagery and folkloric atmosphere.
Cons: The ruins and ruination of the ruins in the beginning was very ruinous; wasn't quite sure if the story was ever going to wrap up until the end; I can't really think of a third con to put here so I'm just going to write that I really want to eat some bread and cheese and hazelnuts because that's what the hob was eating all the time in this book.
Intellectual Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: A-
Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) In a place where the everyday world and the Otherworld meet, anything can happen...
Crowfield Abbey lies in ruins and a ghostly crawling man haunts the long abandoned rooms and cloisters.
When Brother Walter the hob returns to the abbey, he finds it a desolate, troubled place. The ghost of a young girl waits in vain for her father to come for her. A boggart lurks in the abbey drain, and the statues and wall paintings are disappearing, one by one...
And who is mysterious Deerman of the forest?
With the help of a young village boy and a stone hob brought to life, the hob desperately attempts to unravel old secrets and right an ancient wrong. Time is running out for the hob and it is not always easy to tell your friends from your enemies.
Alz's Take: Actually, now that I've read the blurb above, I have to say that while it isn't exactly misleading, it does make the book sound like an thrilling action-packed adventure. And to be sure, there is action, including but not limited to a creepy-ass ghost-monster thing that crawls around in gray tatters of rag and bone, a boggart that smells really really bad (I mean, he lives down inside the latrines pretty much), and assorted pursuit and escapes involving them.
But really, this isn't a story focused on action and solving mysteries—this is a ghost story about remembrance and the preservation (and sad decay/destruction) of the past, of moving on despite reluctance for what has been lost or left behind, of learning to embrace new things and friends, and above all else, not abandoning friends in need. Action and mystery-solving are aspects of The Hob and the Deerman, but are not the thematic focus. The atmosphere is one of wistfulness, mystery, and hope. It's really quite lovely.
Brother Walter (he's not a monk but was named by a monk, hence the whole Brother thing) is a hob, which is a little catlike/doglike furry fey creature that most people can't see. If you've read the Crowfield books, you'll recognize him; if not, no matter, this book functions well enough as a standalone. The book begins with him searching for a new home since winter is coming
Brother Walter remembers he once used to live by Crowfield Abbey and decides to seek shelter there for now. And then he finds the abbey is in ruins and everybody he knew there is dead or gone or both. He's shocked and saddened as he explores the ruins, and in doing so he comes across not only the ghost of a little girl still waiting for her father to come back for her, but living folk from the local village who have been hired by their (of course despotic and jerkfaced) lord to bring the carved stone blocks from the abbey so he can use them to prettify the fancy house he's building.
There is, of course, a young boy with them. His name is Ned
|Eddard Stark does not feature in The Hob and the Deerman.|
I don't know why all these Game of Thrones references are popping up
but I swear that this is the last one.
Then there's the business of the abbey supposedly being haunted, and what do you know, it is (see earlier note about creepy-ass crawling tattered ghost thing). I have to admit that the mystery about the ghost thing was a little underwhelming in the end but I appreciate that it wasn't overly complicated. Also, I feel like I either missed something when reading or there was an editing error because on p. 84 there is a mention about the ghost girl telling the hob something that I don't remember her telling him, and when I skimmed through the book again, I still couldn't find any mention of this, but it would have given more foreshadowing/context to the crawly creeper ghost.
That one error aside though, the rest of the book is beautifully, sparely written. Descriptions are straightforward but when it really counts, there are some truly evocative lines, especially concerning the Deerman, who is a powerful and mysterious figure. Though about the ruinous ruination of ruins thing I mentioned as a con: the first couple of chapters deal with the hob returning to the abbey and exploring it, and while the passages describing the natural decay and willful destruction of the abbey were poignantly written, they were rather extensive. Fortunately everything smoothed out from there.
Our hero is Brother Walter is really a great character--at once an old soul and an innocent one, brave and fearful, desiring to live in peace and comfort but willing to sacrifice both if it means doing the right thing. Despite descriptions indicating that hobs look something both doglike and catlike, for whatever reason I, uh, always vaguely pictured hobs to look like a mix of the Lorax and a pine marten.
|Although inaccurate to the text, this is the hob that scurries about in my mind.|
The book doesn't have a thrust so much as it does a flow, of Brother Walter discovering things and making connections and helping Ned and the ghost girl and even the ghost pig—yes, you read that right, there is a ghost pig, and she's a nice ghost pig named Mary Magdalene that Brother Walter knew in the past. And no, she's not a twee cutesy ghost sidekick (thank god) or anything or even a major player in this book, she really is just a pig.
The book is short, clocking in at 154 pages, but it's the perfect length. Any longer and things would have dragged on; any shorter and I would have felt cheated. As it is, I wasn't entirely sure if the book was going to wrap up or if there was going to be a direct sequel, because I was getting near the end and there were fewer and fewer pages left—but the buildup came to a satisfying climax, and the ending felt right. While I kind of wish there had been more explanation of certain supernatural elements, any more than what's there might have ruined the balance of mystery.
Alz's Conclusion: The Hob and the Deerman is a novella chock-full of folkloric, mythological, and historical elements, featuring a diminutive hob who befriends those in need and really is braver than he thinks he is. It's a great, charming read whether or not you've read the other Crowfield books. I hope there are more novellas forthcoming featuring Brother Walter.