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Bertram of Butter Cross by Jeffrey E. Barlough
Cover Artist: Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes
Review by Colleen Cahill
Gresham & Doyle Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780978763404
Date: 01 August 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Series Page / Show Official Info /

Fantasy literature has many sub-genres, some of which can be quite esoteric. Certainly the Western Light books from Jeffrey E. Barlough, which mix nineteenth century writing style with elements of Gothic, alternate history, and myths, are a good example. In his latest work, Bertram of Butter Cross, we are again taken to a world that has quaint cities and villages with what seem to be very proper Englishmen, but also include mastodons and saber-toothed tigers along with weird magic and mythic creatures.

The story opens in Market Snailsby, a sleepy town on the banks of the River Fribble that is somewhat isolated due to being surrounded by marshes and the dark Marley Wood. The Wood has a legendary past, but seems to suddenly have become haunted. First two small children were seen and when a kind soul tried to prevent them from wandering deeper in the trees, a snaked-necked monster appeared. Then there were reports of a wild hunt riding through the Wood and many wondered if these were ghosts from the brave days of Godfrey de Clinkers, when he and his band of men hunted down marsh devils or spotted lions.

This is not the only excitement in Market Snailsby, as the crew of road builders with their mastodon assistants has arrived. They are ready to finish the road through Marley Wood to provide fast and easier travel to and from the village. With few exceptions, the population is looking forward to the new byway and hope that the recent odd events will not slow this important work. Things become complicated when an expedition in Marley Wood finds the long lost hunting lodge of Godfrey de Clinkers and also discovers a young boy there named Bertram.

Barlough weaves a tale that has great atmosphere, setting up a staid little community that finds itself dealing with an extraordinary circumstance. The mystery of Marley Wood and the young lad Bertram is certainly the center of this book, but I found the numerous characters that grace the work to be very interesting, from the proper Miss Hathaway to the laird of the manor Sir Hector MacHector and even the slightly demented but entertaining Mr. Wackwire. As in the previous books of this series, there is a definite salute to British literature, with hints of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The pace of the story follows that model and the author takes time to examine more details of a scene than many modern works: this is not a detraction and certainly adds to the ambiance of the novel.

Any fans of the Western Lights books will certainly want to pick up this new addition to that saga. As each book in this series is a stand-alone work, you could read Bertram of Butter Cross and not have any issues understanding the story. It is a great place to start with this truly different and entertaining fantasy: I highly recommend all of Barlough's books.

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