Whitby, Witchcraft, and Goth-boots

Whitby, the north Yorkshire coastal town that’s half fishing village, half haven for everything alternative, strange and draped in black crushed velvet. The once quite little harbour below a cliff top abbey first gained a reputation as something more than just another small coastal town because of two famous figures one real who’s connection to the town is some what spurious, one fictional who’s connection to the town is also somewhat spurious.

The first was James Cook, who wasn’t born there, lived there for only a short time, and who’s connection is mainly, he sailed from there on his more famous journeys. The second is of course Count Dracula, who isn’t buried in the graveyard at the abbey as he is the fictional creation of Bram Stoker who once visited Whitby a couple of years before he wrote his most famous creation.

It is the latter that is responsible for all the crushed black velvet you can find in little shops around the harbour. He’s also the main reason that the twice yearly Goth festival takes place in Whitby and the reason its always a good place to by a new top hat.

Whitby has a reputation for ghosts in much the same way as cities like York and Gloucester, possibly for much the same reasons… It has a reputation for spiritualism and for attracting residents of a certain alternative bent. Even the local semi-precious stones, Whitby Jet, are black…

Whitby Jet roses…

I’m sure it will come as a shock to all of you that I quite like the town… Who’d of thought it? And that’s aside the stormy north sea and the long beaches and brooding cliff’s.

All of which means that Whitby makes a great setting for a modern urban fantasy. You know the kind of thing, witch covens, magic, drinks party’s around a bonfire on the beach… Which brings me to an unexpected literary gem to cross my path.

Dormant Magick: The Whitby Witches Book 1

By Lillian Brooks

Lillian Brooks is a practising pagan, living in north Yorkshire with her partner and a cat. This may well be true, I could not possibly say otherwise, and it would be wrong of me to do so. As such I will only say her writing style bares a certain resemblance to that of Amy Wilson who’s book of short stories I have previously reviewed.

But mysterious authors aside this was not the book I expected it to become when I read the first couple of chapters. This was a pleasant surprise because what the first couple of chapters led me to expect would have been a more predictable but less accomplished novel. What I expected was a paranormal romance against the backdrop of the occasionally haunting, always moody, and often brooding backdrop of Whitby on Yorkshires east coast. There would be nothing wrong with a paranormal romance on the cliffs by the Abbey overlooking the harbour. But such is not really my cup of herbal tea.

To be fair, herbal tea is not really my cup of herbal tea either, the cup is always coffee, but lets not get side tracked on hot beverages, or indeed carrot cake (though there is a recipe for carrot cake at the end of the book for reasons that are Lillian’s own no doubt. Not being much of a baker I have not tried it).

The story in the novel is told to us by Alyssa Bright, who grew up in Whitby in a family ‘blessed’ with elemental magick. Ayyssa herself is a water witch, her mother and grand mother were a fire witches, and as a child she lent towards friendships with other members of Whitby’s witch community Before rejecting it and her magick and running off to find herself on the other side of the pond… The novel starts several years later when Alyssa, living in New York and engaged to an American discovers to her horror that her magic has started seeping back..

At this point this could easily have become the kind of urban fantasy for adolescent’s that I generally avoid. But it doesn’t. What follows is everything you might expect from adolescent urban fantasy without the adolescent bit. Magic is just something that exists in Alyssa’s world, most people just don’t know its there. The relationships between Alyssa and her former coven feel grounded and real in the way adolescent Urban Fantasy relationships never really do. The absence of teenage angst, and its replacement with real emotional attachments and relationships is what makes the novel.

That and the brilliant writing, the pace, the feeling that you are on a journey with Alyssa, all add to this. This is short for a novel, but its short because words are not wasted. The story is told without getting bogged down in melodrama. Its fresh, fascinating and has plenty going on between its slim covers. This is a novel that reads much like the novels of Agatha Christie would if Agatha wrote witch coven urban fantasy. Its not so much a who-done-it and a Who’s-doing-it with the same kind of urgency and pace you don’t get in most novels these days because they are often 20000 words longer than they need to be. When Agatha wrote novels 50k was the norm not the 70k to 80k of today, which led to a certain brevity or perhaps more importantly less filler.

Despite this brevity there is also plenty left, even after everything is resolved. There are plenty of hints and the laying of ground work for further books in the series. there is more going on that Alyssa realises that is for sure, and plenty she knows she doesn’t know too. All with the joy that is dark brooding moody Whitby as a setting.

Ultimately, and importantly thought, its perfectly paced, eminently readable and just fun.

And we all need a little fun now and again… As well as black jewellery.

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1 Response to Whitby, Witchcraft, and Goth-boots

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

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