The Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.
Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.
It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.
The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.
In the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.
Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.
The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.
I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.