Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman

Merrily Watkins is a single mother of a very teenaged daughter whose life suddenly took a twist when she decided to become a vicar. Her daughter accepts her decision, but doesn’t understand it and gives little thought to the whole realm of religion herself. She does, however, support her mother and together they move to the village of Ledwardine so Merrily can become its first new vicar in 30 years. Unfortunately for her, her arrival coincides with a playwright’s desire to write and perform a play based on a 17th century clergyman who was accused of witchcraft and being a homosexual. The question of whether or not to put on the play quickly divides the village into two and the villagers turn to Merrily for a decision. She quickly finds making this decision is more dangerous than it sounds since it not only takes up the theme of homosexuality, but threatens to air century’s worth of dirty laundry in public. As the village is an old one, many of its residents have family who participated in the hanging of the Reverend Williams and they would rather the past be left to lie. To add to her troubles, Lucy Devonish, the local paganite and general believer in spirits, be they of trees or men, takes Merrily’s daughter under her wing and introduces her to people and ideas Merrily would prefer her not to know about.

The Wine of Angles is an interesting combination of Mystery, Religious Mystery, Paganism and Demonology. Although I was expecting it to be mostly mystery, it was well written and Rickman kept it from going off the rails either one way or the other. There was a good balance of all of the elements with an excellent use of suspense and mystery. His characters are realistic and likeable (or not as the case may be) with a lot of variation and subtlety. There were 6 kinds of potential for this book to go wrong, but it kept its balance without faltering. Rickman surprisingly never tries to convince the reader that there are such things as ghosts a spirits, but leaves everything open to interpretation. Devonish is either in tune with nature or is a batty old woman, depending on your opinion. He refrains from introducing the outlandish and keeps the creepier side to a level that just suggests the supernatural rather than forcing it on you.

I liked this book so well that I promptly bought the next in the series. If you’re looking for something new, something just a little odd, but not fantastic to the point of disbelief, take a look at his books. This one really fits the bill. I’m rating it 4 out of 5.

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