I guess I’m a bit late to join the Wyrd & Wonder group, but Liz Williams’ beautiful fantasy, Comet Weather, has won me over completely from my hard edged science fictional ways. Sad to think, I never would have known about Liz Williams, or discovered this latest novels of hers, if Alastair Reynolds hadn’t mentioned her work on his blog.
Thanks to him, I’ve been introduced to the unique world of Comet Weather and the intriguing Fallow family of Somerset where four sisters set off in circuitous ways, often through other worlds and times, to find their missing mother, Alys. Along the way, they have plenty of help from the spirit of their grandfather, numerous star beings who wander about their ancient house, a companionable Elizabethan ghost and even the spirit of a comet.
Though in many ways, the four sisters pursue their ordinary lives, there is something elemental about them, something rooted to the mythic English Earth, just as their mother Alys is.
“Bee the home body, looking after the house down in Somerset; Serena with her fashion; Stella with – well, whatever Stella happened to be doing to eke out a living – and finally Luna, going off to live in that bloody van and now who knew where? Four sisters, like the four winds, the four corners of the Earth, all scattered now.”Comet Weather Kindle location 107
But it’s a special time. and they gradually gather together again at Mooncote, their rural home, to help celebrate a harvest festival that marks, this year, the approach of a comet. And that means the approach of a battle of cosmic forces that involves all the sisters, their newly found mother, the few useful men who help them out from the sidelines, and, of course, the spirits of the Pleiades and the other Behenian fixed stars, all of which played important roles in myth, alchemy and astrology of the middle ages in European and many other cultures.
As the Fallow sisters grew up at Mooncote, they would occasionally spot the spirits of these stars but only momentarily. They would appear in their strange robes, bejeweled with characteristic gemstones and bearing flowers and plants appropriate to each of them.
“There was a figure in the mirror, a reflection of someone who was not in the room. Her long full dress was a dull gold; her hair was red and laced with pearls. She carried a lump of polished jasper in one hand, a sprig of plantain in the other. “Arcturus,” Bee whispered. She knew her Behenian stars. The spirit in the mirror regarded her gravely for a moment from yellow cat-eyes, then flicked out of sight. Bee sighed, and went to open the window to let in apple-scented air.”Comet Weather Kindle location 274
Like Arcturus, they never stayed for long until now. Their help is crucial as the Fallow family confronts some very sinister neighbors who have a formidable, near-satanic figure on their side.
We see the action in turn from the perspectives of Bee (for Beatrice), Serena, Luna and Stella. Each one manages to find a way into another world. One looks through the eye of a sheep’s skull, one wanders into the orchard a little too far from the house, another enters a strange barrow that looks like it had been hurled up out of the Earth itself, another follows a strangely glowing path.
All, at different times, find themselves in a colder world, pursued by dark forces, in mortal danger without any sense of what to do, except for a few pithy words of advice at crucial moments from their spirit friends.
The sisters have strong, well-differentiated personalities, and we are drawn into their worries and affairs long before grasping that many of these involve not quite this-worldly beings. Well, aside from the talking tree that alerts Bee from the first page that something big will be happening soon.
I have to admit, though, that once the action really got going, I sometimes had to check back to see whether it was Stella or Luna or Bee or Serena who was pulling Alys from the bonds of shadowy spirits in knotty brambles or being chased by a slithering mink after turning into a hare or being rescued from a cold stream and brought on board Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind or stepping into a new world while the ordinary one stopped still in time.
No matter how much danger the members of this interesting family get into, there is always a warm home to get back to, friendly spirits of stars and the English countryside to warn them of danger. Above all there is that sense of strong family unity holding them together, despite their considerable grievances and long-standing tensions.
That is part of the charm of the story. You’re never far from a warm blanket if you get drenched in freezing water, or a mug of hot tea if you’ve just encountered a reeking devil figure, or the embrace of a friendly ghost if you’re lost in a countryside that is hundreds of years older than it should be. Ultimately, it’s the large Fallow family of women that leans in on itself to gather the strength needed to withstand the tests they all have to endure as the comet draws closer and finally arrives, quite literally, in their midst.
At the same time, cosmic forces permeate the apparently ordinary rural setting.
And those vast distant suns were obviously not the same as the calm-faced women with their jewels and their sprigs of herbs who paraded throughout the house, just as the moon was not the same as the dappled wooden horse who galloped over the spare room floor, and yet, somehow, they were the same: their appearance in the minds of men forming something other, something real. Microcosm and macrocosm: a system of correspondences, star and jewel and flower; number and planet and colour.Comet Weather Kindle location 1183
I love Comet Weather and hope for a follow-on novel. I may not be drawn to the sort of fantasy with dragons, people with wings or elves and orcs. But this one, rooted in the real world, like Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series or Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I find mesmerizing.