Jaemi's Reviews > Murkmere

Murkmere by Patricia Elliott
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Jan 11, 09

bookshelves: ya-fiction, fantasy
Read in April, 2007

Aggie Cotter grew up in a world where birds meant everything. There's an entire Table of Significance about them in fact. And she has it memorized. You see, in Aggie's world, the Almighty is the Eagle. There are Birds of Light and Birds of Night, and one must carry protection against the latter, so as not to risk harm to one's soul.

There is a story of a people called the avia--people who were not content with their lot, who longed to sore with the birds, to leave the earth behind for the sky. It's said they were punished by Eagle, their souls bonded with the bird form, allowing them no rest as they would never truly be bird or human again.

Aggie's life, as it happens, is entirely wrapped up in these ideas. More so than even she knows.

When it comes time for her schooling to end, and her working years to begin, Aggie fears she will waste away as a spinner. So when Silas Seed comes to the village and offers her a job at the mysterious Murkmere, the estate at which her mother worked so long ago, Aggie excepts, albeit apprehensively. Her Aunt Jennet, who raised Aggie from the time she lost her parents, doesn't want her to go, but allows it.

At the gates of the estate, Aggie begins to lose her nerve. When the gates are opened for her by none other than the handsome Silas himself, she finds she can't bring herself to walk in. The Rooks nesting near the house speak to her of doom. Until Silas reminds her that Rooks nesting near a house actually signify good luck. She shakes her head at the contradictions of The Table of Significance, clutches her amber, and enters.

Once inside the manor itself, it becomes clear to Aggie immediately that life here shall be no easy, or even enjoyable, thing. Mistress Crumplin takes an apparent dislike to her, as do most of the rest of the staff, only the little girl Scuff even bothering to talk to her. Worse still, her first encounter with Miss Leah, whom she is to be companion to, consists of Leah telling her to pack her things and go.

Leah loses her battle with the Master on this point, as it was he who hired Aggie in the first place. But it will be a long time before she truly warms to her companion. At best, she will tolerate her.

Similarly, it is a long while before Aggie earns any kind of respect from her fellow workers. It takes much less time for her to lose her respect for Silas Seed, who is not at all who he first seems.

Hoping to escape life at Murkmere, Aggie plans to run away during a trip to the village to fetch the Sweep to clean a chimney blocked with a Rooks' nest. (The staff are afraid to touch it.) Her plan is foiled on many levels. The Militia are in the Village. Only her employment at Murkmere (the Master is a member of the Ministration) saves her from questioning and capture. Worse still, her aunt has been arrested for stealing. The soldiers found forbidden books bearing the Murkmere crest hidden in her cottage.

Again using her employment status to her advantage, Aggie manages to see her Aunt and question her about the books. Which is when she learns the truth of her mother's story, and of Leah's as well. Knowing what she now does, she realizes she can't abandon Leah. In addition, the Master is her only hope of rescuing her aunt.

Her return brings joy to some at the manor, and much anger to the Master, who wasn't told of the militia's presence. He does send Silas for the Captain though, to free her aunt.

From then on, life at Murkmere becomes more and more treacherous. She has a falling-out with Leah, after they had grown so close. She knows Silas can't be trusted, and yet the Master does trust him, with everything in fact. Not knowing what she can do to change things, Aggie lives day to day, hoping to repair the bonds she's broken, and somehow find a way to set things right.

It all comes to a head at Leah's coming of age. In her honor, a ball is thrown. The ministration is invited. Plots unfold.

_________

I'm not sure how I missed this one in my fantasy readings. I remember picking it up a couple of times, but I never brought it home. Then while I was perusing our new Teen holdings a couple weeks ago I picked up Ambergate, which is the sequel, and brought them both home. It was definitely worth it.

The idea of a religion based on bird is intriguing. And watching Aggie struggle with her upbringing versus new knowledge she gains at Murkmere is reminiscent of the entire human struggle for meaning.

Highly recommended.
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