on Feb. 17, 2016 :
This short e-story, written by one of my Goodreads friends, is one I picked up when it was offered for free. Originally, I'd proposed to review it a few days ago. But the review proved challenging to write; it's a tale with a great deal of ambiguity and many unanswered questions. Eventually, I read it a second time, with the benefit of some gracious explanation by the author as to the underlying premise. It definitely deserves a review, but I ultimately decided not to rate it. (Frankly, I often question the desirability of attaching "ratings" to reviews; I reviewed books for serious journals, and read reviews in the same venues, for many years without ever encountering the practice or feeling any need for it.)
Our setting here is a village on the North Sea coast of Flanders (the titular "ghost shore") in what is probably the 19th century --no date is specified, but the material culture and social conditions have that feel. Title character Hildie is an aged woman who weaves fine lace; but she's also a widely known reader of runes, inscribed on smooth stones for purposes of divination, a practice handed down from the Vikings, as is the folk veneration of Odin. (According to Wikipedia, the latter actually did survive, in the parts of Europe settled by the Germanic/Scandinavian peoples, into the 19th century.) In this story, she's visited early on by a seafaring man who wants her to read the runes for him. This will be, to put it mildly, a very unconventional consultation, which builds up to an extremely surprising ending. The story is difficult to discuss without spoilers.
Cappa's prose here is beautiful, appealing wonderfully to the senses; considered strictly in terms of style, she writes with a grace and felicity pretty much unequaled among other contemporary writers since Tanith Lee's untimely death. Here she also draws on a serious background of Viking mythology, with references to Odin's hanging on the world-tree Yggdrasil for 9 days (derived from the Old Norse poen "Havamni," or "Sayings of the High One" --it doesn't specify Yggdrasil as the tree, but scholars agree that's what is meant), his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, the malevolence of Loki, Odin's association with rune-craft. (Some references, like the idea of the Ship of the Dead and Odin's role as psychopomp, are new to me, but that's because I'm not as erudite in the lore as the author clearly is.) Indeed, the world view of the story seems more cast in terms of Viking myth, conceived as real, than in Christian terms, though there's some Christian terminology too.) A quibble that could be made is that the ending --and no spoilers here!- depends on a deus ex machina (literally); but not all readers may take it that way. It's also been plausibly suggested that the story is better appreciated if it's just experienced on its own terms, letting oneself go with the flow of the narrative and language, rather than made to stand detailed analysis.
This is also a really fast read (observing all of the classical unities); i read it easily in a single sitting, and was surprised that it went by so quickly. However, the e-book also contains a short bonus story, "Abasteron House," a prequel to the author's novel Night Sea Journey, and intended to whet reader's appetites for the latter. (Mine is officially whetted! :-) ) That book, in fact, will be my next read.
For readers completely new to Cappa's short fiction, this may not be the optimum place to start. My own suggestion would be to start with either "Beyond Castle Frankenstein" or "Between the Darkness and the Dawn, and work up to this one. But for readers who want to give this tale a try, I can verify that as of last night, it was still free on Smashwords!
(review of free book)
on Oct. 14, 2013 :
Cappa combines magical storytelling with historical and supernatural elements to show you the story of rune-reader Hildie as she reads the fortune of a mysterious visitor.
The tale of Hildie at the Ghost Shore is revealed to readers at a leisurely pace, laced with evocative descriptions of the heroine's surroundings. While the start is somewhat slow for a 2,000-word story, it allows you to feel the magic surrounding Hildie and her little corner overlooking the Ghost Shore.
The most positive aspects of the short are the writing itself (completely error-free, something I truly value), and the author's knack for drawing the reader in to a world of Norse mythology. The ending is also thought-provoking and I would definitely like to see the story continue from there.
The main thing I missed here was a bit more action throughout. As I mentioned above, the pace is leisurely, and while I am more drawn to action and high-risk scenes, the slowness of Hildie at the Ghost Shore lets you feel the characters and, most of all, the setting. After reading, I feel it is probably the best way to tell this story, as Cappa gently takes you by the hand and draws you in to her imagination.
While not precisely my cup of tea, I can still admire Cappa's storytelling capabilities. I would recommend this story to anyone interested in Norse mythology, runes, and, as the story's description states, "quiet little mysteries." While reading, it somehow reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe's A Descent into the Maelstrom.
(review of free book)