The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe 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children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy.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.

australian women writers review challenge logoIn 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.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.
  • NIN: nailing it on the return

    hesitation marks by nine inch nailsI finally got my download of the new Nine Inch Nails album, Hesitation Marks, on Wednesday night, and it was on high rotation all day yesterday. It’s a smooth little number, so damn grooveable: it wears its angst on the inside. A quick perusal of the song titles will show you what I mean: ‘All Time Low’, ‘Disappointed’, the cracking ‘Came Back Haunted’ …

    Trent Reznor is clever enough, old enough, to know he can’t play the Downward Spiral or — my fave — Pretty Hate Machine card. So he’s moved on, but not abandoned the sound that marks a NIN album. Nor the atmosphere, really.

    I love the construction of the songs, the way various influences come through without losing that NIN sensibility. There’s no hesitation here at all: it’s a big exclamation mark from these ears, oh yes.

    Here’s an awesome interview with Reznor in Spin, about the making of the album, where he’s at musically; and here’s a grand review at the Guardian and another at AMG, just to give you some better-considered reviews to be going on with. Of course, the proof is in the listening. You can stream the album here.