Murkmere Library Binding – Jun 28 2007
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up–A gothic novel set in a magical Britain. Aggie is a village teen who has gotten a position as a companion to Leah, a ward of the Master of Murkmere Hall. But, as she enters the estate, there are several bad portents from the Birds, which the people believe are divine beings. Once there, Aggie finds herself caught in an insular world of deceit, decay, and forbidden knowledge. Leah is a person whose mood varies from day to day. Their complicated and realistic relationship serves as an anchor for the novel, allowing readers to immerse themselves in this world. As Aggie continues to work in the manor, she realizes that everything she has been brought up to believe about books and religion may not be true. Her teacher aunt is involved in national politics, her suitor is not the slow village boy she thought him to be, and the suave man who hired her may be at the heart of the evil that surrounds her. This engaging, well-paced story is filled with believable characters who behave in a convincing manner. There is plenty of suspense, and readers will not be able to put the book down until they discover the fate of Leah and Aggie.–Tasha Saecker, Menasha Public Library, WI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gr. 9-12. An outpost of the Ministration, a corrupt government that enforces a harsh avian-based theology to control its people, Murkmere manor is located on its country's bleak Eastern Edge. The manor presides over a dank and misted realm populated by oppressed villagers. Aggie, a young woman from the nearby village, is made to serve the manor as companion to its crippled master's ward, an ethereal young woman named Leah. While serving Leah, Aggie must learn to navigate Murkmere's halls, power structures, and menacing denizens--most notably Silas Seed, its perversely pious and slyly violent steward. When Leah finds a filthy, reeking swan skin in the swamps and keeps it as a prized possession, Aggie is forced to examine her own deeply held religious beliefs to determine whether this is an act of blasphemy or something else entirely. This moody and detail-rich story effectively combines elements of fantasy, religion, and politics. Most characters are not quite given their due, remaining stock and hard to reach, but the threatening atmosphere, eerie gothic-like setting, and suspenseful story arc will appeal to sophisticated fantasy readers. Holly Koelling
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Borrowing from the gothic tradition of literature, _Murkmere_ is a great brooding, dark sort of book. It's dark in the way _Wuthering Heights_ is, with the setting being as much a dominating force as any of the characters. It also reminds me of the wonderful Gormenghast series of books, to the extent I wonder if Elliott wasn't influenced by them. The imagery is just gorgeous, and allows even this jaded adult reader to completely lose all sense of the outside world while reading it.
The characters are brilliantly drawn and sympathetic from the start, and the use of myth and legend is done with just the right touch. Elliott writes with such a graceful flair, and never falls into the trap of being self-conscious. You can tell she believes in what she's writing, which makes the magic of it all absolutely take flight.
I read a fair amount in this area of fiction, and aside from the Harry Potter books and a few other gems I haven't found anything at all that's as completely consuming as this book. I can only hope Ms. Elliott keeps writing, and the more prolific she is the better! A brilliant book. If there were a higher than 5 star rating I would give it!
From the opening sentence I was trapped in the dark, oppressing world Patricia Elliot so convincingly creates in Murkmere.
This is a world where the search for knowledge is severely punished and birds are worshiped as gods; their wishes, mysteriously translated by an inbreeding elite called the Ministration, used to submit the people. High above them, in the distant capital, the Lord Protector, divinely bound with the Eagle, the supreme of all Gods, rules uncontested.
Yet not everyone is content. Forbidden books are still read in hiding and the peasants, pushed to their limits by a brutal militia, are flirting with rebellion. But nothing threatens the established order more than the rumors about the avia. The avia, the legend claims, are the descendents of those who long ago dared to challenge the gods by flying. In punishment, they were forced to be trapped between two forms, bird and human, for ever.
Far from the capital, at the edge of the civilized world, lies Murkmere, a rural state that has been deteriorating since its Master became crippled in an accident following the death of his beloved wife in childbirth.
As the book begins Aggie, a girl from the nearby village, is called to the manor in Murkmere to be the companion of Leah, the Master's ward, a wild girl of fifteen, he plans to make his heir on her sixteenth birthday.
Like in so many classics of the gothic genre--the tale of a young girl coming to a decrepit old manor--the girl is the narrator of the story. But in this case, the choice of Aggie as the narrator is, in my opinion, a big mistake.
Aggie is a secondary character, with an uninteresting story of her own. Yet because she is the narrator the reader is forced to follow her through all her boring daily activities. The story picks up when Aggie interacts with Leah, with the master, or even with Silas, the handsome, mysterious steward. These three are, by far, much more interesting characters than Aggie. Unfortunately they are not in the foreground often enough.
Aggie is not only an unreliable narrator--her vision of the events she relates is distorted by her religious zeal--but her motivations and actions are somehow bizarre. She is always at the right time and place, without a convincing reason to be there except that she must tell the reader what is happening. Also, her changing feelings for her mistress, a development that propels most of her comings and goings, seems forced.
Aggie is a character so secondary that if she were to be taken from the story, the main plot would remain unchanged.
Murkmere had the potential of being a powerful story, but the choice of the wrong narrator, an ending that lacks resolution and a plot that fails to address the most interesting elements of the story ruined it for me.
At the end, and although I was impressed by the haunting beauty of Murkmere and the depth of the world the author has created, I was disappointed.
But while the building blocks are almost Victorian, the putting-together has the sensibilities of modern fantasy as well. The setting is remsniscient of Cromwellian England, with the populace ruled by religious superstition and a harsh Ministration. The mysterious figures Aggie finds at _Murkmere_ are not merely hiding missing children or grieving widowers, but, shape-shifters and heterodoxy. Persecution, censorship, and religious dogmatism are all taken on as the plot moves toward more than just a story of frienship gained and trust won. In spite of its heroine Aggie's journey from obedient believer in authority to revolutionary, _Murkmere_ never comes close to didacticism or allegory. Aggie's personal journey is gradual and entirely her own: she does not immediately abandon the worldview she has been raised with. Elliot's treatment of religion is one of the high points of her world-building here. She creates an interesting set of doctrines, myths, and superstitions which for her world to interpret that approximate the function of the early-modern Church without being merely an imitation of Christianity. The very fact that this can be described as "a YA fantasy with themes of heterodoxy versus orthodoxy" would make it worthy of multiple stars.
Attention to character is what really distinguishes _Murkmere_ from the standard run of YA fantasy. Aggie makes mistakes in judgement from naivete, fear, and misunderstanding. Even when she and her mistress Miss Leah come to a tentative detente, their relationship fluctuates constantly with Leah's arrogance and impatience, and Aggie's stubbornness. By the time Leah and Aggie really do unite to work together in the book's climactic chapters, it is an alliance, but not necessarily a dear friendship. While it is certainly a fantasy, _Murkmere_ is at root a story about people.
When Aggie passes through the gates of Murkmere, she immediately has an uneasy feeling as she sees the rooks nesting above her. She continues to feel out of place when she meets the estate's steward Silas Seed and the housekeeper Miss Crumplin, whose disdainful remarks about Aggie's deceased mother Eliza makes Aggie uncomfortable but curious to know more about the life her mother had while working at Murkmere years before. Then Aggie meets the mysterious Mr. Tunstall, the Master bounded to a wheelchair as the result of a terrible accident, and his ward Leah. A moody, restless girl who prefers to visit the mere and its swans every chance she gets, Leah often eludes her sour-faced maid Doggett, aka Dog, who quickly sees Aggie as an enemy rather than a friend.
Leah makes it clear that she would rather not have a companion or be at Murkmere at all. When Aggie voices her concern about Leah to the Master, she sees that the Master cares for Leah even though his protectiveness makes Leah --- and later Aggie --- feel imprisoned behind the gates of the estate, just as the Master himself seems to be from behind the iron bars that restrain him in his wheelchair. The Master's overprotectiveness, his rumored secret "blasphemous" book collection, and the dangerous machine in the estate's watchtower add to the mystery that surrounds Murkmere.
While Aggie settles into her new life, she soon discovers that the devout charming Silas is not as dutiful as he seems and becomes entangled in a deadly web of secrets and lies involving Murkmere, the village, and even the Capital. As the celebration of Leah's 16th birthday approaches, Aggie realizes she must save Leah and herself, or else be trapped in the mysterious Murkmere forever.
MURKMERE is a well-crafted fantasy that teems with suspense, intrigue and symbolism --- all the while remaining descriptive of the haunting scenery that brings Aggie and Leah's story to life.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle (SdarksideG@aol.com)
On the whole, this book is unremarkable. It is peppered by a number of faults: The villains, both large and local, are unoriginal, some following the tired trope of twisting religion for personal gain, some merely evil by nature. The narrator, although the purported protagonist, goes through little character growth and is much less interesting than Leah, who has a more important story to tell. Although the book's climax is satisfying, the ending feels empty--for Aggie, there is no real conclusion; the reader is not privy to the end of Leah's story. Although minor on their own, together these faults combine to take the book down a notch, making it a little too simple to read, a little too shallow in depth.
For all of this, Murkmere has a certain charm. By and large the writing style is nothing special, but skillful pacing builds a sense of foreboding, inserts action to hold reader interest, and leads to a satisfying climax that fulfills the sense and scope of the book. More than all of this, there is also a strange, unearthly beauty to the story: in the obsession with birds, in the Leah's still-secretive nature, in the secrets also of Murkmere itself, the book seems to offer a magical world that is not yet explored. I wish that the book did delve more into this world, indulge in the fantastical aspects, show us more of Leah's story and her character--yet even if I wish for more, what is present is atmospheric and interesting, pulling the reader deep into the book (which is quite hard to put down) and keeping him ever curious for more information, for one more glimpse of magic.
It was the mysterious fantastical aspects that kept me avidly interested in Murkmere and it is on that basis that I recommend the book. While far from the best I've ever read, I found myself constantly intrigued. I hope that the sequel better embraces this aspect--the faith without close-binding rules, the magic without fear or superstition--and, even better, that they adopt Leah as the narrator or at least the primary character. However, even in the sequel disappoints, I do recommend this book. It has many faults, but it also has a sense of beauty, mystery, and wonder that I wish I saw in more books and greatly enjoyed the the tantalizing, limited glimpses in which it is presented here.