Bohemians of the Severn

Gloucestershire is, I have come to believe, a strange place. Maybe it’s something to do with the waters of the Severn, or the wind blowing out of the Malvern hills, or maybe it’s something in the soil and the roots of the earth. Some ineffable quality that has made it an odd little Bohemia of literary excellence and artistic joy. A loose knit colony of inventiveness, wonder and talent….

But it is defiantly strange… in the best of ways.

I am saying this as a Yorkshire exile, living in modern dystopian Teesside, just down the road from those flaming towers that inspired the opening sequence of Bladerunner, which is in its way my own little literary Bohemia. Perhaps there is something about culturally distinct isolated collections of small towns. Perhaps it is simply in large city’s artistic community’s are too dispersed to thrive in quite the same way… Perhaps there are little communities of writers everywhere, and we just don’t see them… Perhaps I only noticed the Bohemians of the Severn because I spent a couple of days down there earlier in the year… Or perhaps its just unique.. I am torn if I am honest… I like unique strangeness, so I am going to go with that for now…

In recent months, the occasional, sporadic book reviews I hopefully engage and entertain with on here, have been heavily influence, like my bookshelves, by those Bohemians of the Seven. Influences that have been creeping in like happy little tentacles for a few years in fact… Meredith Debonnaire, Tom Brown, Nimue Brown, Matt McCall, Stephen Palmer, Keith Healing…

Perhaps it really is something in the waters of the Severn, the name of the river etymologists would tell you is derived from the British Celtic word Sabrinā, and no I don’t know exactly how you pronounce that ā at the end, but Sabrinā is also, depending on interpretations, the name of Celtic princess, or a nymph that drown in the river. Folk-law says she is now the guardian of the river, a not entirely benevolent one… Occasionally she demands her due in blood and bone…

Sabrinā cropped up, in an unfortunate way (for her) in Monique Orphan, Being as I am, an ignorant northerner, I wasn’t entirely aware who she was, until I looked her up. I thought at first she was just another of Stephen Palmers wonderful inventions. Until that was she cropped up in the next book I read… Which happened to be from another of those Bohemians of the Severn… Honestly its got to a point Gloucestershire writers have their own shelf in my library… And what an odd but fabulous shelf that is… The latest book to go on that shelf though is a little out on its own…

Nimue Brown, is one of my favourite writers. I originally types ‘is becoming one of my favourite writers’ then realised that was a lie… there is no becoming here, she most definitely just is. I’ve read rather a lot of her work, including some of her none fiction. But the latest of her books I have indulged myself with is somewhat different from her usual fair. This is no bad thing, Nimue has both the raw talent and intellectual grace to write anything she damn well choses. But the latest book of her books, (latest to me, to be clear, she wrote it a while ago) is defiantly a departure from quirky steampunk, and gothic fog shrouded islands. It is somewhat more serious, and defiantly more adult in its themes (these by the way are both the correct and the incorrect terms, I am just not sure how else to say what I mean.)

It is also by way of a romance, a genre I seldom read, despite having written a novel that has been described as a romance once myself. Though I am never entirely happy with describing Cider Lane as a romance, even though it is. Cider lane is about two ostensibly ‘broken’ people who find some solace in each other, it is also a lot more than that, and in some ways less… But I’m not talking about my own work here.

Hunting the Egret, is about two ostensibly ‘broken’ people who find some solace in each other, it is also a lot more than that. It’s a LOT more than that… But to deal with the ‘broken’ people first. Gareth is defiantly broken, his sense of self worth is, well it would not fill a thimble, he has suffered abuses that, well he has been broken for most of his life and those he has ‘loved’ for want of a better word have only abused him further, locking him in a cycle of BDSM servitude, which has long stepped across the line from kink to abuse . Verity on the other hand, well she has other issues ‘broken’ would be the wrong word, troubled would be better. Verity has a hard enough time relating to normal people, and Gareth isn’t ‘normal’ by any standards, but then nor is she, however she is not normal in very different ways.

One of the reasons, aside the author which would have been enough to start with, that I bought this book is because it described itself as containing ‘magical realism’. Which it does. An American author and friend of mine described Passing Place as being a magical realism novel. Which was an odd description I thought as I had never thought of it in that way, but as Hunting the Egret contained ‘magical realism’ it seemed a good idea to read it, for curiosity alone. And, you know , Nimue wrote it which was reason enough.

The novel has a sense of place about it. Which is along the banks of the Severn. A landscape Nimue clearly knowns well, and I know not at all. But having read Hunting the Egret I feel I know it… In the same way I feel I know the north Yorkshire moors around Howarth because of the writings of a certain Miss Brontë. The Severn is an old river, and an old border, between the Celtic west and the Saxon kingdoms. Unsurprisingly there is a lot of folk-law surrounding it. Sabrinā is only the start. Its a tidal river as well, one unique because of the Bore wave that occasionally travels it length. So its unsurprising there is a lot of myths about the area.

Verity is for want of a better description, a pagan, granddaughter of a self professed witch, and daughter of an unlikely and not entirely successful marriage. Her fathers is a water born hermit on a canal barge, most of the time… While her mother, well actually I would really like to know more about Verity’s mother, there is a story in there I am sure, but at the same time I am glad, for this novel at least, that the mysteries surrounding Sorrel remain mysteries. She has certain fay qualities shall we say. Verity has inherited much from both sides of her family. She also has small ears and likes to swim in the river, but not in the way you might first imagine.

This is a romance… There is passion… There is also brutality, both the brutality of the natural world, and the brutality of the human one. At least the former is more honesty in its intent… The human world has been brutal to both Gareth and Verity, in different ways. For the passion to survive those brutalities both must come to accept the other for who and what they are and find a balance of a kind between them.

From a less gifted author this novel would be a mess, certainly I don’t believe I could have written it, Nimue somehow makes it seem effortless and draws you in. Yes this is a romance, and aspects of the novel follow the kind of plot you expect in a romance. But it is so much more than just a romance. It is dark, and gritty, and the darkness comes in strange places, not always as obvious as you make think, there is an encounter in the river between two otters that’s in many ways as dark as anything else that happens in this story. Though that at least is part of natures brutality, rather than that created by humanity. Yet for all the darkness, the grim sections, the brutality, and there is that word again, it has an uplifting nature to it as well. It is after all a romance, and a story for the romantic within us all, even cynical Yorkshiremen.

In short it is beautiful, strange, magical, and in its own way uplifting, but mostly just beautiful…

And, we should all listen to hawthorn trees more. They are both wise and witty.

This entry was posted in amreading, amwriting, big questions, book reviews, books, indie, indie novels, indie writers, opinion, pagan, reads, supernatural and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bohemians of the Severn

  1. Nimue Brown says:

    Thank you!
    I spent a period mostly being a smut writer, and this is one of the longer and less smutty piece to survive all of that and still be out there. My story shape tended to involve impossible messed up people finding equally impossible and messed up people who between them were able to make some sense of each other. It no doubt says a lot about me that this has always been the fantasy heart of my romance writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Books of the year 2022 edition | The Passing Place

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