Charlie Courtland's 'Dandelions in the garden' is presented in such clarity the text sparkles. Closer to documentary than memoir, her character, Amara is given superhuman powers of recall, which this narrative cannot exist without. Yet, the viewpoint is focused only through her eyes; nothing exists that she did not see, hear, or feel. There is no chance to hear another character’s thoughts until they speak them. This is not detachment, as the modern voice might leave one feeling – it is clarity.
In a romantic, Victorian voice, this story would have lost the ability to stand at Amara's shoulder and observe as it does. ‘Dandelions’ is written as a crime novel. It is stark, and gritty during the bloodletting, and the reader expects the flash of crime-scene cameras. How it maintains the obvious feeling in the romances; the shattering of hearts with dejection and rejection - the longings that last so insufferably long (for the characters) - that is a clever skill, in that voice.
The author is cunning, and never only fills space with details, she fills the tale with emotions.
What Charlie Courtland has done, with this two-book tale, is reduce the massive scope of her imagination to the core of what it is: a story that can be rich in texture and place, and yet lay bare what was done. Done to Elizabeth Báthory and Amara, and what was done by them.
The tale has a vicious bite, and the characters remain in place – to watch if you will die.
Charlie Courtland gives us a story so imaginative, its power cannot be resisted. Grand enough to be divided, thoughtful enough to bring only a taste of the horrors into the first book, as a reader, one can believe every word as truth. One can imagine just how the two main characters felt, living the life they were forced to live, and understand where the murderous tendencies were seeded into Elizabeth Báthory’s heart.
Told to us in the simple voice of Lady Amara, who recalls every moment in stunning detail, we hear longing for something peaceful and lovely, which has no string of obligation. We feel just as trapped as she; a sly trick of the narrative voice, nothing exists in the story that Amara did not see, hear or feel. But, that was how the two young girls lived, even into adulthood – they did not exist, unless someone with power chose to acknowledge them. That life, of only shadow and servitude, twisted Elizabeth. How could Amara escape such madness?…it may be true she did not.
The period and the setting, late sixteenth century Hungary and Transylvania, wears all the pomp of royalty, the privilege of station and rank, the power of noble blood. But, in every moment of these two joined lives, there is corruption within the beauty. The beauty is only a façade, and they never will be blessed to enjoy it; it is filled with weeds and decay – the dandelions in the garden.
Charlie Courtland has opened her imagination for us, and provided something stunning. One must wonder; did she live it in a previous life? Which was she then…Elizabeth, or Amara?
(reviewed 9 days after purchase)