Clouds hang low in the sky where I live. They seem to touch the flat brown fields around our village, and to shadow the broad backs of the horses pulling the plow.
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.