My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Merrily Watkins is a widowed mother and a brand new Anglican priest. She is assigned to the village of Ledwardine, near the Welsh border, once the center of English cider production, but now little more than a weekend getaway for rich folk from London. Jane, her teenaged daughter, is perplexed by her mum’s career choice, but delighted because the rambling old vicarage has room enough for her to have her own apartment. Merrily is hoping for a peaceful transition, but her first week is anything but auspicious. Some of the residents are into reviving ancient customs, such as dancing around the “Apple Tree Man” to encourage the recovery of the orchard and cider business. Some of the newcomers (aka outsiders) are bent on presenting a church play in which “the truth” about a medieval minister is subject to dramatic examination. And Jane has fallen in with both the local folklorist and the village wild child. Then there’s the disaster at the installation ceremony….
Phil Rickman is an outstanding writer, skilled at working credible plots, dialogue, characterization, and ambience. In the Merrily series, he expertly and seamlessly blends superstition, folklore, and a touch of the paranormal into the problems of modern day living. Ledwardine is a timeless place steeped in tradition, and filled with colorful inhabitants reminiscent of the traditional English “types”, but most definitely real. Merrily and Jane so engaging that the reader begins to pull for them from the first chapter, as they struggle with the realization that there’s much more here than meets the eye. And much of it isn’t as pretty as the landscape….