Meera and her twin sister Kai are Mades—part human and part not—bred in the Blood Temple cult, which only the teenage Meera will survive. Racked with grief and guilt, she lives in hiding with her mysterious rescuer, Narn—part witch and part not—who has lost a sister too, a connection that follows them to Meera’s enrolment years later in a college Redress Program. There she is recruited by Regulars for a starring role in a notorious reading series and is soon the darling of the lit set, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died so Kai could have lived. Maybe Meera can be re-made after all, her life redressed. But the Regulars are not all they seem and there is a price to pay for belonging to something that you don’t understand. Time is closing in on all Meera holds dear—she stands afraid, not just for but of herself, on the bridge between worlds—fearful of what waits on the other side and of the cost of knowing what she truly is.
“I was raised by three sisters – one a witch, one an assassin and the third just batshit crazy.” Whilst I found this opening sentence immediately intriguing, it didn’t prepare me for the convoluted world I was about to be drawn into as I accompanied nineteen-year-old Meera on her journey to unravel the past and to uncover the memories and secrets which will, she hopes, allow her to discover who she truly is. Her narrative begins soon after Narn, the eldest sister, has enrolled her on the Redress Programme at Wellsburg College … “ten thousand miles away and on the other side of the planet. To the ends of the earth may as well have been.” … a reflection which immediately captures Meera’s visceral sense of dislocation; it then moves backwards and forwards in time as she attempts to make sense of her feelings and experiences, both past and present.
It feels impossible to attempt to précis this dark, disturbing and complex story without removing the elements of surprise which emerge through the author’s masterly-controlled switches in time, shifts which provided bridges between past and present and which also incorporate an initially rather unsettling, but ultimately very effective, change of tense. Instead I’ll focus on the many aspects of the author’s story-telling which made this such a compelling read for me. The story encompasses an impressively wide range of themes – loss, grief, forgiveness, survivor’s guilt, reparation, redemption, coercion, abuse of power, how it feels to be different, to be an outsider, the desire to fit in, to belong, but without sacrificing personal integrity – to name just some. It also incorporated some of the myths surrounding twins, as well as the mythical ‘charm’ of three. All of these themes are explored via a cast of memorable, well-drawn characters, each of whom, whether likeable or loathsome, is multi-layered and usually not quite what they appear to be.
I found the science-fiction element of the story particularly chilling, with its premise of a misogynist ‘Father’ having the power to not only create his Mades, but then to ‘unmake’ them – it felt like such a disturbing metaphor for women being seen as somehow dangerous and in need of controlling, objects to be used, abused and disposed of. It was a relief to discover that the story did also include examples of women finding the strength to take back control!
I loved the fact that stories and story-telling were at the heart of the novel: how stories can be passed on, how they can provide a safe space, have the power to stop time and can give ‘both teller and listener a place to imagine one another.’; how we need to remember that, however disturbing the story ‘If someone lived it we should at least be able to listen to it.’ Meera believes that in order to survive at college, to be accepted by the ‘Regulars’ at the ‘Fearsome Gatherum’, she needs excel at telling fearful stories and to do this, she needs to persuade Narn to keep on sharing her stories, in return promising that she will try to find Narn’s missing sister. There were moments when I found that some of the decidedly gory, graphic imagery instilled a real sense of fear and apprehension – I felt I wanted to do a reading equivalent of peering through my fingers whilst hiding behind the sofa!
When I reviewed Collision, the author’s collection of short stories (Meerkat Press 2019) I reflected on her skill at drawing me into the worlds she was describing which, although fantastical, ‘were all too easily recognisable, possibly because there is always an element of people struggling to make sense of, and adjust to, the world they are inhabiting.’ This skill is, if anything, even more apparent in this full length novel because, from start to finish, what underpins all the magic, mythology, supernatural elements and science fiction is a credible psychological exploration of the wide-ranging themes the story encompasses. I became enthralled by this spellbinding, beautifully written novel and recommend it without hesitation.
Review by Linda Hepworth
Published by Meerkat Press 22nd June 2021
ISBN: 978-1-946154446 Paperback