Sarah Parke is a a new author for me, and upon looking up some info on her, it turns out “The Mourning Ring” is her debut novel. All I can say prior to giving my review: Wow, what a way to start out in the book world!
Most people are familiar with Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre”. Personally, I have never read it. I know (knew) little about Charlotte Brontë, however when I received my e-mail asking if I would be interested in reviewing “The Mourning Ring” two things caught my eye. One was of course the cover. It’s dark, and it caught my eye. And after a few of the previous books I read, it looked like it would break up the monotony of reading the same genre. Secondly, the book’s description. I’ll admit when I signed up for the blog tour I didn’t read the description. . .I rarely ever do. Upon receiving my copy of the book, I knew without a doubt this book was going to be cherished on my bookshelf.
Stories serve as more than just stories. Stories can make us laugh, make us cry, there can be healing words, as well as hurting words. To Charlotte Brontë, stories were her lifeblood. While she was a child, her older sisters were sent home from school due to an outbreak of typhoid. The girls were kept separate from the family in a sick room to avoid any other outbreaks. Fearless Charlotte would always sneak into the room to tell stories to her sisters, after all, it is the stories that connects Charlotte to her siblings. What she wasn’t expecting to find while sneaking into her sister’s sick room was her fairy grandfather. Having never met him before, Charlotte is taken aback to find him in the sick room as well. According to her grandfather, he is there to take Charlotte’s sisters, Maria and Elizabeth to a place where they will feel better. And with that, Charlotte heard her sisters laugh for the last time. Before leaving entirely, her grandfather gifted her a mourning ring; a traditional ring back in the day, containing strands of hair from a deceased person. This ring will help Charlotte find doors to the other world.
Once Charlotte learns of her fairy heritage it is her mission, along with her remaining siblings, to learn how to harness their power. Luckily for the Brontë siblings, their Aunt is there to help teach them all about fairy magic. Between lessons and writing stories of worlds far away, Charlotte receives a mysterious note regarding the state of peril Angria is in. Now to anyone else, it’s a completely normal but urgent note. To Charlotte, and the rest of the Brontë children, it could be laughable. Angria is a land completely made up around the Brontë’s dining room table. From people all the way down to government, everything is played out, written down, and figured out. So how could an anonymous stranger seek help for a land that does not exist? Intrigued, Charlotte goes against her better judgment to meet this stranger in a tavern. To her surprise, her family’s intricate story is at a table staring her in the face. And the only way to help Angria is for the Brontë siblings to travel there and fix what happened.
How do the siblings get to Angria? How is it possible to go from ideas on paper to a full fledged functioning city? You’ll have to read “The Mourning Ring” to find out. . .and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Lovers of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Oz, The Magicians, Inkheart, and others, rejoice! We found another book to fall in love with a land we may never visit. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy getting lost in a world. And I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how effortlessly and flawless Sarah Parke writes this book. Even now, writing this blog, I can’t begin to tell you how absolutely brilliant Parke’s own story writing is. There were times I was reading at a rapid pace, slowing down to enjoy a moment in the book, literally, laughing out loud, and smiling like a complete fool whilst reading “The Mourning Ring”. I would happily read any new works written by Sarah Parke.
Digging a bit deeper into researching Sarah Parke, I find that she is working a new project. . . still historical, still fiction as she changes the history of Napoleon. You can find some of the sparse (yet exciting) details here.
“The Mourning Ring” is a fast paced read anyone will enjoy. If you need a quick, yet satisfying read, please don’t hesitate to pick this up and give this new author a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
I received an email from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours asking if I was interested in reviewing “The Mourning Ring” by Sarah Parke. In a previous blog post, I mentioned that last year my absolute favorite genre was historical fiction. After reading the description of this particular book, I knew that I had to review it. “The Mourning Ring” was published October 19th 2016 and is available for purchase here.
Please enjoy the following excerpt from Sarah Parke’s “The Mourning Ring”
The Temple of the Four Siblings was an unassuming, white brick structure with a domed roof several stories high. The outside walls had no ornamentation or bas-relief panels like the palace. It was the sort of structure that Anne might have wandered past without realizing that the doors concealed a world of secrets.
Anne followed Sister Kunto up the steps. She hesitated on the threshold as her eyes adjusted to the darkness within. The inside of the temple was a large open space, like a church without pews. The walls were white-washed to make the windowless space feel brighter. The spots faded from Anne’s eyes, but dark specks appeared to creep and crawl over the walls in the shimmering heat. She took a cautious step closer to peer at the stone and the specks coalesced into words. Thousands of words. Sentences and paragraphs and entire stories–some of which Anne recognized– had been painted onto the walls of the temple. It was like walking through the pages of a book.
The Sibbies had made a temple of words and for what purpose? The sheer size of the project left Anne speechless.
“This way,” Sister Kunto said, drawing Anne’s attention away from the walls and into the rest of the temple.
Four figures, other Sibbies judging by their black apparel, sat cross-legged in a circle at the center of the temple. Some had their heads bowed over open books, while others wrote on parchment in their laps. Murmuring voices filled the room, though Anne could not locate their source. Standing candelabras positioned throughout the room illuminated a compass rose inlaid in the floor.
“What’s with the compass?” Anne asked, pointing at the circle beneath the Sibbies.
Sister Kunto turned and walked back to Anne “It amplifies our magic. Each point on the compass represents a different strength of one of the Four Siblings. North is for Charlotte who represents home and fertility. South is for Emily who stands for passion and creativity. By channeling each of the Four Siblings we can gain access to the magic still hidden in this world.”
“What about Anne and Branwell? What strengths do they represent?”
The Sibbie studied Anne’s face. “You don’t know very much about your namesake,” she said. “Anne is East, communication and new beginnings. Branwell is West, emotion and movement.”
Sister Kunto led Anne through an archway into a long, narrow corridor. People sat against the walls or slept on straw mattresses spread out across the floor. There were old men, pregnant women, and several children, all sitting and waiting in silence.
“What is this place?” Anne whispered to Sister Kunto.
“This is our work,” she said. “These people are the reason why we study and sacrifice.”
“You run a poor house?”
“Not exactly.” Sister Kunto moved among the people as she spoke, crouching down to whisper kind words of comfort to an old man. He responded with a broken-toothed smile.
Anne was not averse to helping the sick and needy, but having lost two sisters to typhus, she was not about to be foolish with her health. She hurried after the Sibbie, keeping her distance from the sad figures on the floor.
“Then what is it you do?”
Sister Kunto stopped by a little boy with dusky skin lying on a thin pile of straw and rags. She knelt at the boy’s side and gestured for Anne to take the spot next to her.
“How are you feeling today, Marcus?” she asked the boy. It was difficult to gauge his age; his cheeks were gaunt and his limbs too thin.
“A little better, miss,” he replied. He gazed at Anne, a question in his eyes.
“Hello,” Anne said softly. “My name is Anne.”
“You’re not one of the Sibbies,” he replied matter-of-factly.
Anne looked down at her calico print dress, a slightly too large hand-me-down from Caroline, and smiled. “No, I’m only visiting.”
“Marcus has been with us for two weeks now. His father left him here in our care.”
Though he smiled, Anne noted the sadness in the boy’s eyes.
“He abandoned his child to the care of strangers? That’s unconscionable!”
“It’s all right, Miss Anne,” Marcus assured her. “Papa was right to bring me here where I wouldn’t be a burden on my family. I’ll never be strong enough to work. It’s better to live out the rest of my days here.”
Anne was ready to object again, but Sister Kunto laid a hand on her arm. “Marcus was injured months ago when the Ashantee warriors overtook the palace guards.”
“It was my fault,” Marcus explained with a wisdom born of hardship and pain. “Papa told me not to go, but I wanted to see a real battle. I got caught in the middle and one of the horses broke my legs.” The boy peeled back the blanket covering his lower half to reveal the two twisted branches that remained of his legs. Anne’s stomach turned at the sight.
“Here at the temple, we heal with the power of story. Those we cannot heal, we help prepare them for the next chapter,” Sister Kunto explained.
Further down the aisle, an old woman started coughing and doubled over onto the floor. Sister Kunto hurried over to her and soothed her fit with soft words.
Anne turned back to Marcus. His solemn eyes studied her face.
“Do you know any stories, Miss Anne?” he asked.
“I’m not sure any of the stories I know would interest you,” she replied.
“You could make one up, like the Sibbies do.”
Anne smiled. Of course she could make up a story. It was one of the first things she had learned to do, even before reading and writing.
“All right. What kind of story would you like?”
Marcus’s face twisted with a comical look of deliberation. “Tell me a story with a happy ending.”
Anne folded her legs, readjusted her skirt, and began: “There once was a brave boy named Marcus, who lived in a city made of glass…”
Falling into the storytelling rhythm was natural to Anne, as comfortable as stepping into a worn pair of slippers. In her story, Marcus the Hero battled armies with his clever tricks and saved the city from being crushed beneath the heel of a giant. Anne entered a trance-like state where she grew oblivious to the hours that passed, the dryness of her lips, or the growing number of ears that turned in her direction hanging on each word as if it were the line tethering them to the world. It was the most freeing, unselfconscious state of creation that Anne had ever known.
And at the end of her tale, story-Marcus’s injuries are healed by a fairy from a faraway land and he walked home to join his family for supper.
A smattering of applause rang out from the gathered crowd as Anne fell silent. She was exhausted; her lungs ached and her stomach growled. When was the last time she had eaten? What time was it and had anyone at the palace noted her absence?
Marcus begged Anne to stay and tell him one more story, but Sister Kunto declined and helped Anne climb to her feet.
Anne swayed and caught herself against the Sibbie’s sleeve. She murmured an apology in her cracked voice and took a step away from Sister Kunto. The world spun and plunged into darkness. Marcus shouted as Anne fell to the floor.
She awoke sometime later to the acrid smell of vinegar being waved beneath her nose. She was still in the temple, judging by the susurrus of words in the distance, but she was lying on her back.
Sister Kunto knelt by her head. There was a concerned look on her upside-down face.
Anne started to sit up but a throbbing pain in her skull had her melting back to the floor.
“I tried to catch you, but I’m afraid you might have knocked your head against the floor when you went down. Does anything feel broken?” Sister Kunto asked.
Anne started to shake her head and groaned at the sensation of her brain ricocheting between her ears. “No,” she croaked.
Sister Kunto dabbed at Anne’s forehead with a cool, damp cloth. She studied Anne for several moments, then asked “How did you do it?”
“You told Marcus a story and it healed him. As soon as you fell to the floor he rushed over on his knees to make sure you were all right. You healed him.” The hunger in Sister Kunto’s eyes made Anne uneasy.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of course Anne had known that her words held power. Wasn’t that how the Siblings described it? She had half-hoped her story would heal a part of Marcus that had been broken by the accident, but she hadn’t expected the magic to work quite so literally, or so quickly.