THE WAY BETWEEN THE WORLDS by Alys Clare

9 12 2012

Way Between coverThe latest in the Aelf Fen medieval mystery series, which are set in the period immediately following the Norman Conquest, when the Saxons of England and the French-speaking Normans were still two very separate and very different peoples.

To be precise, it is 1092 and the Bastard’s son, another William (and another bastard, though this time only with a small ‘b’), is now King. Our heroine, Lassair, too, is growing up and is no longer the unsophisticated village girl she was in the earlier books. (Out of the Dawn Light, Mist Over the Water, Music of the Distant Stars – such beautiful titles.)

When the story opens, she is in Cambridge, studying with the wizard Gurdyman. All is going well and he seems to be delighted with both her natural talent and the fast progress she is making.

My first experiment in alchemy consisted of griding some dried leaves and flowers in a pestle and mortar, mixing them with water and then heating the liquid in a still over the bright flame of an oil lamp that Gurdyman called a wick. I watched as the liquid turned to steam – Gurdyman said this process was known as vaporising – and then, entranced, I saw tiny droplets begin to collect in a separate vessel that he called the receiver. Finally, when all was finished and the glass vessels had cooled down enough to touch, he extracted a drop of the new substance and held it out to me to sniff at. It smelt delicious; like summer flowers with the sun on them.

‘One becomes two, two becomes three and out of the third comes the one as the fourth,’ he intoned. Then, his distant expression softening into a smile, he said, ‘We took flowers and water, and we turned them into this sweet perfume.’

But her happiness is marred by a recurrent dream in which someone begs her “Come to me! I need you!” Only she cannot tell who. It is not a voice, which she might recognise, more a thought, a telepathic message. When the dream becomes a nightmare and she wakes one night screaming with Gurdyman hurrying into her room to comfort her, she finally tells him about it. And he, of course, knows that it is a power dream, which cannot be ignored.

Then she hears that a nun has been murdered at Chatteris Abbey, out in the Fens – the convent where her beloved sister Elfritha is now a nun. Believing the summons to have come from her, and fearing that she may be too late, she rushes off to Chatteris.

Meanwhile, in the larger world, King William has been having trouble on two fronts: in Normandy, where his right to the Duchy is in dispute, and in the north of England, where the Scottish King Malcolm is raiding farther and farther across the border. The previous year, William had despatched a land-army north to secure the border and a sea-army up through the North Sea to support them. There was a great storm and almost all the ships were lost. Why? Was it pure chance?

Or was it sorcery?

He despatches Rollo (who first appeared, and Lassair rather fell for, in Mist Over the Water) to investigate. And when Rollo finds himself up against ancient pagan forces that he is in in no way equipped to handle, who should he turn to for help but Lassair?

What can I say? I love these books even more than I loved the same author’s Hawkenlye Series. More, please, Alys!

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