Book Review: The Crow Journal by Finn Cullen

The Crow Journal by Finn Cullen is a wonderfully evocative, meticulously researched, intricately woven tale that slots in impeccable references to mid Victorian London and joins them seamlessly to a chilling tale of faerie, enchantment, adventure and treachery.

The story is told in a style that would have been familiar to Dickens or Conan Doyle. Here’s an excerpt to give some flavour:

The carriage ride was not a long one, and my companion was not inclined to conversation. I was thoughtful myself after my encounter in the court of Green Jack. I had not gained the answers I sought, but I had taken a first step into the realm of Faerie. More importantly I hadn’t lost my life in the taking of that step. There in the safety of the cab’s compartment it began to dawn on me how perilous that encounter had been. Thorn’s ruthlessness had been clear, the memory of those cold killer’s eyes would not soon leave me, and the sense of power that came when I recalled the vast landscape face of Green Jack himself was daunting.

Barnaby Silver, having finished the first part of his magical training with his kindly mentor, Doctor Moran, journeys from a remote village in Yorkshire to London. He is searching for news of his father, who he never knew. His mother, a magus or magician, had fled London when he was a baby. Now he needed to find out about his father.

His quest takes him through the darkest streets of mid Victorian London and the dangerous lands of faerie. Interlaced with the search for his father is the intrigue and scheming of the magi, the magicians that are now based in London after moving from Glastonbury.

The story has plenty of great action scenes and lots of plot twists, although only a hint of romance. As a story, it stands alone but there are a few strands left that suggest further great stories may come.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A Sad Memory

brown woven basket on brown concrete wall
Image from Unsplash, taken by Emma Dau

Lady Freydis sighed. Being an ageless elfen who had lived for millennia had its benefits but memories became clouded. You could remember things, but couldn’t hang them on a date. She could never remember whether it was the Battle of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo that had happened first and it had caused quite a bit of bother in pub quizzes. Whole chunks of time seemed to slip out of her mind, unremembered. Other times, other happenings, slid to the back and fell behind the clutter of everyday and now. Lady Freydis would drift happily along, oblivious to any gaps until she was reminded by a picture or a place and the old memories would slide back into view.

She walked down Stonegate. York depended heavily on tourists and today it was nearly deserted. So many were wearing masks. So many looked strained or fearful. A few looked ill, to Lady Freydis’ experienced eye, but whether it was the latest sickness or something else, she didn’t know.

She remembered many plagues. They were always time of fear and pain. Elfen fed on the emotions of the people around them, and the fear, horror and despair of plagues were rich pickings. The one she remembered best was the Pestilence that struck York. The Minster was still being rebuilt and King Edward was on the throne, the third one, and people fell in the streets. And the good priests had died.

There had been a priest attached to St Mary’s, or perhaps St Olaves, called William. Lady Freydis thought it was William. The name was blurred by time but the feel him, the way his smile shone and his heart showed in his eyes remained vivid. He had known what she was but had still been kind as she sobbed on his shoulder over another of Lord Ragnar’s infidelities. He had been so scared as the sickness reached York. Lady Freydis had felt it rolling off him like waves. He may have been called Wilbur, or Wilfrid, but she remembered the tone of that fear and his courage as he pushed on to minister to the people of York. So many had died, Lady Freydis remembered. She had stepped over the bodies in the street. And Father Alwin – yes, that was his name – Father Alwin had caught the pestilence himself as he had not turned away from those who had needed him.

The bad priests fled, the good priests died. Father Alwin had never allowed Lady Freydis to nurse him properly but continued, in the few days he had left, hearing confessions from the wretches dying next to him. He heard the confessions of others on his own deathbed, confessing at last to Lady Fredis, as dispensation allowed, and had passed.

There were plague pits outside the walls, but Lady Freydis would not let the remains of Father Alwin go there. He had been a safe place for her when her heart was breaking. She would not let him be in a nameless grave jostled by many. Instead she took his remains through faerie paths and dug a grave deep in a churchyard in Stamford, unnoticed in the corner, and laid him to rest, saying the old prayers as she said goodbye.

There had been many plagues over the centuries, but none had taken someone she missed more. And every time, Lady Freydis took flowers to the dim corner of the graveyard and tormented a bad priest.