Monday, April 11, 2011

Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meg and her siblings have been sent to the English countryside for the summer to stay with elderly relatives. The children are looking forward to exploring the ancient mansion and perhaps discovering a musty old attic or two filled with treasure, but never in their wildest dreams did they expect to find themselves in the middle of a fairy war. 

When Rowan pledges to fight for the beautiful fairy queen, Meg is desperate to save her brother. But the Midsummer War is far more than a battle between mythic creatures: Everything that lives depends on it. How can Meg choose between family and the fate of the very land itself?

Although the above publisher’s summary covers the basics of the plot in Laura L. Sullivan’s debut novel Under the Green Hill, it does not convey the brilliant and imaginative tale told within its 308 pages. Through an omniscient narrator whose whimsical and humorous voice at times seems like another character, I was enthralled, engaged, and even glamoured by the setting, characters, and the fantastical fae mythology. 

While setting is often an overlooked element in stories, its importance in Under the Green Hill cannot be ignored. When we get our first look at Gladysmere, a small town several hours outside of London, and the Rookery, where ancestors of the Morgan’s have lived for nearly two thousand years, it is as if we have stepped into an beautiful painting to a place forgotten by the modern world and we get to experience first hand the sights, sounds, and smells of the landscape.

The way opened up at last to country far more wild than any they had passed before. The trees at the shoulder looked impossibly ancient, with trunks so wide that all of the children together linking arms, couldn’t have reached around the circumference. The road dipped down steep hills, and here and there jagged rocks jetted from the earth, too random to be monuments, too odd to have sprung up by their own means. In the distance, they could see a line of dark tress, behind which must be a black wilderness. A little town was nestled in a hollow on one side of the road, the houses made of thatch--- Gladysmere...

Meg had never seen a place like the Rookery. Calling it a house wouldn’t do justice to is size. It was somewhat less imposing than a castle---it had never been built for pitched battles or sieges, and had no moats or high fortifications. It was a wealthy gentleman’s country house...untouched by any wars or revolutions...Time itself had done little to the Rookery. The centuries had taken the sharpness from the corners, and moss filled the shady crack so that where the fa├žade had once been a light-gray rectangle, it was now almost a dark-gray oval, softened in its harsher angles. The Rookery was built in the shape of a massive U, with the arms extending at the back of the manor to create a partially enclosed courtyard.

Through her vivid descriptions, Sullivan’s setting is much more than a backdrop to the story. It is a living breathing entity where one would certainly expect to find the fair folk.

Sullivan’s diverse cast of characters not only includes the four Morgan children, and their two companions Finn and Dickie, Aunt Phyllida and Uncle Lysander, but Gul Ghillie, a Seelie prince who has a bit of the Puck in him, Bran, Aunt Phyllida’s father (who by the way is some 40 years younger than his daughter), and an assortment of fae folk including pixies, brownies, and some nasty Unseelie. While much of the story revolves around Rowan, who on the very first night of arriving in Gladysmere, volunteers to be the Seelie Queen’s champion in the upcoming Midsummer War, and Meg, who is trying to figure out how to keep her brother from getting killed, the plot also has several twists and turns. Each twist adds more layers to the plot providing history and lore both of the past and the present. Sullivan’s attention to detail is meticulous as she lays before the reader the intricacies of the interactions with this magical realm. Although not all of the characters were as fleshed out as I would have liked, I believe that further books in the series will provide more depth, and I never felt that this hindered my enjoyment of the story, but only made me want to get to know them more. 

Under the Green Hill is a fabulous fantasy teeming with fae mythology and executed in a way that kept me mesmerized. I felt as if I was in the presence of a story-teller whose prowess included the ability to literally transport me to a place that really existed allowing me see for myself the beautiful fae in all their glamour. If you love fantasy, then I highly recommend you take this trip for yourself, but be warned once you are there you won’t want to leave.

 Source: Received copy for review from publisher at the request of the author

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