Dear reader, you find me once again in a bit of a dilemma. If you follow me on Instagram or happen to read my reviews on here then you’ll know that I’m a fan of a bit of historical fiction and of a bit of magical realism. In fact I’d say these are the two genres that I’m most likely to gravitate towards; actually you could say that this is somewhat of an obsession.
Both Blackberry and Wild Rose and The Heavens promised to provide a fix for this infatuation – especially The Heavens (a tale of time travel, the political and environmental crisis and Elizabethan England – yes I know it seems an odd mix but hear me out). And to some extent it did, they both did, more on that later though.
It might seem odd that I have broken with my usual style of review which tends to be a deep dive into a single read. Usually like my reading I couldn’t think of reviewing two books at once, but I was left with the same feeling having finished both of these novels. Namely that they were so beautifully written, painted a world (or worlds) so vividly that I simply did not want them to end and to have to leave. Both left me feeling that the author could have given just a little more – more depth, more detail at times. In both cases I felt there was simply more story waiting to be told.
In the case of The Heavens – a story of Kate, who is transported to Elizabeth England each time she sleeps – I felt that the author had only scratched at the surface of her tale. This sounds like an original concept, right? One which would take a hefty novel to unpick? Not so with The Heavens.
Each time Kate awakes in real world New York the decisions she makes in the past have had drastic consequences. Kate awakens in the past with a feeling. Where this feeling comes from is not explained, but there is something that she must do. She has the inexplicable feeling that whatever she has to do is connected to Will (who do we think that could be then?).
This concept is what sets The Heavens apart from many current magical realism texts. Also weaved into the text are some powerful messages about climate change and the rise of the right. It’s so difficult to describe the novella without giving too much away.
What amazed me as an aspiring writer was how Newman created a brilliant, intriguing and challenging story in so few words. I long to tell you what Kate uncovers during her visits to the past – it would be such a spoiler – but it was also the element which I felt could have been developed. As a reader my trips to the past felt too brief, the reaction of Kate’s friends to her inability to cope in the real world too blase and I longed for Kate to just engage a bit more with what was happening to her.
Whilst The Heavens is groundbreaking and innovative Blackberry and Wild Rose is a much more traditional novel – not to say boring, but it is definitely a bit more safe. Here we have the story of Esther Thorel, the wife of a silk merchant who aspires to become a designer and maker herself. So yes there is that little hint of a feminist message. Esther, a god fearing good wife, takes Sarah on, an ex-prostitute with a bit of a chip on her shoulder! And so the wheels of fate are set into motion with some dramatic and life changing results for both women.
I’m almost loathed to do a deep dive analysis of this novel because really it is just a joy of a read. It’s sumptuous, gothic and romantic. Velton has carefully drawn a world, and the characters who inhabit it, and she artfully then drops the reader in. I’m going to leave this here because there is nothing wrong in just enjoying a book. That being said I just wanted the characters to be more roundly developed: in a romantic story I want to drown in the love affair – but instead I was given only a glimpse. Perhaps I am greedy or want too much of a good thing but whilst I enjoyed the book in the moment I was left a little disappointed.
Have you ever had an experience like this with a book?