Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Spring Book Fair - Silver Hands


A mysterious pendant.
 A sinister suitor. 
And an epic chase to the Edge of the Map... 


1706. The rival Dutch and English East India Companies sail the world’s oceans, bringing back exotic treasures and tales of fantastical lands. In coastal Hollyport, Margaret faces a terrible choice: to abandon herself to a marriage that could erase her very soul, or to risk all aboard a ship bound for dangerous waters. With her betrothed husband, the sinister Mr Van Guelder in pursuit, Margaret embarks on a journey like no other: where pirates, flying islands and secret empires await; along with unexpected friendship from troubled young nobleman Taro, whose estate holds surprises and sorrows of its own. But Van Guelder is never far behind, nor is the power of the mysterious lodestone round his neck, and Margaret will have to learn the true nature of suffering before she can ever be free.




“And so you read the Bible and your father’s account book?" Mr. Van Guelder took a sip of ale.I felt my face flush. I did indeed read both those venerable texts, but I had the distinct feeling that Mr. Van Guelder was testing me and I didn’t like it. I wondered again what it was about the smell of him that was so strange.“Not only those. I am very fond of Pilgrim’s Progress. And Father let me borrow Paradise Lost from the circulating library. There is much in it that is hard to understand but there is such imagination and awe in it." I had never forgotten the scene in which Satan came upon the world hanging by a golden chain in the midst of the stars; it took my breath.“Ah, yes, Paradise Lost. Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell. An unexpected choice for an innocent young girl.”
There was something about the way he said the quotation that made me uncomfortable. He put far too much feeling into it than seemed appropriate for the dinner table. And I didn’t like the way he kept twisting everything I said. I tried to think of a way to change the subject but, before I had the chance, Martha changed it for me.“What’s that?” she said, pointing to something around Mr. Van Guelder’s neck.Instantly, Susanna and I both kicked her under the table for bad manners, but Mr. Van Guelder merely smiled.“This?" He drew out a pendant on a brass chain. Contained in a brass setting worked to look like a flaring sun, was an uneven, rough-looking stone that glittered here and there as though sprinkled with diamond dust. “I should imagine your father can answer that.”Father leaned forward, peering under his wig. “It looks like some kind of lodestone. A magnetic rock, child, of the sort our forefathers used to make their compasses and guide their ships. Before our modern age." He smiled.“Indeed. Once the possession of my own father, now no longer with us." I thought I detected a slight sneer to his lip as he spoke. “If you will believe it, Mistress Rosewood,” (I noted he turned his attention immediately back to me), “this rock represents the very pinnacle of Dutch exploration. A trophy brought back from the lands that lie beyond the edge of the map. Those lands that cannot be reached except by those who are seeking something else." He waited until Martha’s eyes had grown as large as her own dinner plate before adding: “For those who care for such travelers’ tales.”Susanna and I exchanged glances. As was to be expected, a fair amount of travelers’ tales had passed around this very table over the years. And despite what I told my sister, part of me had always wanted to believe they were true.“Would you like to play a little game?" Mr. Van Guelder leaned across the table towards Martha, the pendant still hanging from his finger. “Shall we see if our lodestone can locate your sister?" There was a gasp of anticipation from Susanna, but I already knew which sister he meant.“I’m not sure I care for games, Mr. Van Guelder.”“Oh, come." His blue eyes glittered as the stone swung lazily. “It is the simplest thing. Touch your finger to the stone. I shall close my eyes. Then stand anywhere you wish in the room and we shall see whether the magnetic pull of the rock is drawn towards you.”The way he looked at me was making me feel more uncomfortable by the minute, and I had no wish to be singled out in some ridiculous game, but Martha was already crying: “Oh go on, Margaret, do!” and even Father said quietly: “Oblige our guest, Margaret.”“Very well, then." There was no other choice. I put the tip of my finger on the lodestone. It felt smoother than it looked and surprisingly warm. My finger prickled; it was the sort of sharp stab you can sometimes get from stroking a cat too long.“Anywhere in the room?” I said. Mr. Van Guelder closed his eyes. “Anywhere at all.”I eased my way over to the window, as quietly as possible, feeling the sea breeze across my lower back. My chest rose and fell beneath the constricting whalebones. Slowly, Mr. Van Guelder pushed his chair back from the table, rose, and without the slightest falter or slip, walked over to the window and took my hand.Susanna decided to get in her bid for attention.“That is a wonderful demonstration, Mr. Van Guelder. Truly amazing.”“Nonsense." Mr. Van Guelder was still holding my hand, rather more firmly than I would have liked. I could feel a shudder building up somewhere across my shoulder blades. “It is as I suspected. Your sister is naturally attractive.”


REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
A well-crafted and imaginative debut novel, with strong world building and an engaging story. ~ Juliet Marillier, Author of Sevenwaters, The Bridei Chronicles, Wildwood Dancing, Shadowfell
A wonderfully engaging mix of fairy tale, travelogue, and high seas adventure. ~ Leigh Dragoon, Editor: Byzarium
A handsome stranger asks for her hand in marriage, is he merchant or demon lover? Margaret Rosewood’s fear seems inexplicable to her father and sisters. Is Holman Van Guelder not handsome, rich and cultured? He is all those things, but he has tampered with eighteenth century science and become a shape-shifting fiend who threatens to annihilate his bride’s very identity. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Rosewood seeks increasingly daring solutions that take her across the globe, whether into gut-wrenching terror or tranquil oriental paradise. Pirates, shipwreck, unexpected alliances and supernatural intervention bring Margaret to safety eventually, and unite her with her true love. I found this novel intriguing from the start, identifying with the heroine to such an extent that I was quickly in terror of Van Guelder! The sacrifice she must make to escape from him, the loss of her hands, seems a price too high to pay yet it becomes the means by which Margaret discovers new friends and also her own strengths and talents. The silver hands take on a higher significance, symbolizing friendship, love, and above all hope. Elizabeth Hopkinson’s meticulously researched historical detail and vivid characterisation immerse the reader in this compelling fantastical adventure. Historically well realised detail of the life, risks and rewards of life aboard East India Companies’ ships in their heyday let the story ring with authenticity. The character and colour of her engaging evocation of a pre-modern, secret feudal Japan are captivating. A unique, enjoyable historical novel. ~ Val Williamson PhD, Historical Novel Society



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