I was lucky enough to attend an author talk by the inspirational Kate Forsyth a few weeks back. She was talking about her new Historical Fiction novel, The Wild Girl. Kate’s talk began with a discussion of her quest to become a writer, and the success of her very first published novel, Dragonclaw.
Sadly, Kate has now moved on from the High Fantasy genre which gave her career wings, but the nostalgia made me want to go back and revisit Dragonclaw. Here is my review:
Book Review: Dragonclaw by Kate Forsyth
Book 1 of the Witches of Eileanan
I must admit that I had not read much by Kate Forsyth up until a few years ago when I was lucky enough to attend a Masterclass with her at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. I dutifully picked up Dragonclaw and started reading, and soon wondered why I hadn’t read anything by Kate Forsyth before.
I found the first ten pages or so a little slow – the beginning of the novel is dense with back story and the characters speak wi’ a wee bit o’ th’ Scottish, which took me a few pages to get used to. However, I was glad I soldiered on.
The back story of the novel is well-developed and goes that the evil Banrigh (Queen) has ensorcelled the Righ (King) to gain the throne and has outlawed all magic and magical creatures. Those practicing magic are burned as witches, and throughout the land magical creatures are hunted and killed.
The storyline centres around a young apprentice witch named Isabeau and her guardian, a powerful old sorceress named Meghan, who live in a hidden valley beneath the mountain of Dragonclaw. When their valley is discovered and burned they flee, and Meghan and Isabeau part ways; Isabeau on a quest with a mysterious artefact, and Meghan on her own quest to overthrow the Banrigh.
There is just so much to love about this novel for us high fantasy lovers. Kate’s world teems with mythical creatures – from the well-known such as faeries and dragons (I love a book with dragons!) to more unusual creations such as mesmerds, fairgean and a helpful but rather scary nyx.
Forsyth writes the novel from a number of point of views, but rather than jumping back and forth between characters using short chapters, she instead employs a more tolkien-esque approach, giving each character a long chapter regardless of timeframe. I really enjoyed her style as it gave me plenty of time to settle in with each character and enjoy each individual journey.
Her protagonists are colourful and atypical; along with the young heroine there is also an ancient witch, a blind seer and a half-faery who can change into a tree. Despite having a predominantly female lead, you won’t find any damsels in distress waiting to be rescued here; Forsyth’s women are resourceful, tough, clever and powerful but still have faults and weaknesses. Forsyth also isn’t afraid to make her characters suffer as they face increasingly difficult obstacles.
The world Forsyth creates is compelling, beautiful and terrifying in turns, with plenty of plot lines, a familiar elemental magic system, and well-developed, unusual characters.
I give this book 10/10 sparkling dragons.