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Driven by dialog with the author’s
trademark dark humor, and set in the mud and murk of England in the early days
of Christianity, Peter Joseph Swanson's Vampire Pond blends myth and
legend from Greek gods to Celts and Druids to Noah’s Ark. The gypsy widow and
her dwarfish brother are marooned in the misery of a village not yet on any
maps and find themselves drawn into poverty faith and politics. There’s even a
touch of modern ecology as villagers wonder if the cutting down of trees might
have caused the mud to prevail and crops to fail. “God gave us trees so they
are to be used,” says one protagonist. “Now it’s all barren.”
The author’s excellent feeling for
history is clear in his language and characters, from “tart” being short for
“sweetheart” to barber surgeons who just might want to burn witches in order to
take over the doctoring trade. Hilarious misunderstandings of familiar Bible
tales have people arguing over whether God would really have drowned rabbits
and small children. And the greed of someone who may or may be sent by the
church leads to complex machinations over whether or not it’s murder to send
someone to a monster.
This story really takes off halfway through
when veiled references to evil and mystery suddenly come to life and horrors
abound, all with that trademark mix of the ludicrous and the haunting. The
characters have a pleasing consistency, their responses and their timing
perfect, giving the reader the same sense of shock and surprise as they endure.
A story as slippery, dark and muddy
as the world it portrays, this tale builds nicely on humor balanced like
tumble-down buildings sinking in the mire, and offers escape or redemption at
the hands of a very practical woman and her brother.
I was lucky enough to find a copy of this novel when it was offered free.