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The Year of Ancient Ghosts

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The Year of Ancient Ghosts is the first collection of stories by multiple award-winning Australian writer Kim Wilkins. Born in England, Kim Wilkins is the author of over 20 novels for readers of all ages. Her debut novel The Infernal won two Aurealis Awards. Her latest books, contemporary epic romances, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman, and include Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill. Kim Wilkins is a four-times winner of the Aurealis Award, twice winner of the Sassy Award for popular fiction, and winner of the Romantic Book of the Year award. The book collects 5 novellas, comprising two written especially for this collection and 2 reprints and the first print publication of "Wild Dreams of Blood".

268 pages, Paperback

First published May 9, 2013

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About the author

Kim Wilkins

62 books507 followers
Also writes under the name of Kimberley Freeman.

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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Alan Baxter.
Author 129 books451 followers
July 26, 2017
An amazing collection of five novellas. Beautifully written and overflowing with imagination and historical homage. The last story, "The Lark and the River", is the standout for me - a stunning piece of work. This book was published a few years ago and it's taken me a while to get around to it, but I'm very glad I finally did.
Profile Image for S.B. Wright.
Author 1 book46 followers
September 14, 2013
How not to sound like a raving fanboy?

Hmm… probably not going to happen.

How often does a collection of novellas cause you to go and borrow every book you can by the author? For you see, that’s what I did before I’d finished reading The Year of Ancient Ghosts. That was before the Lark and the River, the final novella in the collection left me blinking away the tears, left me so immersed that I had to remind myself that it was fiction.

Not many writers do that to me anymore. It is a battle – skill and talent versus my familiarity with literature and story. Most of the novellas within the collection were excellent, a couple superb.

The titular novella, The Year of Ancient Ghosts, had me in mind of a dramatisation of MR James’ A View from a Hill – foreboding and menace found in small things, the frisson when the everyday is cleverly juxtaposed with the weird.

“Strange wee boy. Full of stories. Full of mystery. Folk around here used to say, he’s not for this world, that lad. Not for this world.” Then, checking himself, realising he might be stirring my sadness, he cleared his throat. “I’m glad you’re both here. I think you made the right choice.”

Jenny the wife of a famous novelist returns to the place of his youth – the Orkney Islands. She takes their young daughter, as they had planned, to meet the people that raised him. Straight away Wilkins situates the reader in the aftermath of a tragedy, we are immediately sympathetic and on edge, fearing what strangeness is in store for our two bereaved souls far from home. Wild weather, strange noises and bad dreams draw out the tension as we wait to cross the threshold from unsettling normality to horror.

The Crown of Rowan, is a reprint and one of the superb stories in this collection. Set in the kingdom of Thyrsland, Wilkins’ version of Anglo-Saxon England, it is a tantalising glimpse into what I think would be a great full length novel or series. Wilkins alludes to such a novel in her afterword (which also struck me as a beautiful piece of writing) hoping that she has captured the spare and elegiac mood of the original Old English literature.

There are seven kings in Thyrsland. My father is one of them, and my husband is another. In my belly, perhaps, I carry a third.

It is blood month, and outside my bower window I hear fear-moaning cattle on their way to slaughter. Every night this week, I have smelled blood on the wind: faint but unmistakable, worming under the shutters. And I’ve turned my face to my pillow and held tight to avoid retching.

Unmistakably elegiac from the get go I think. A beginning that could launch a thousand (well I said raving fanboy) books but I’d settle for just the one. I must admit I am a fan of the Anglo-Saxon era, the poetry, the mystery, the fall of Rome till the Norman conquest. Similar to England, Thyrsland is experiencing a time of change – different models of kingship, different religions, conflicts political, military and personal. I got the sense that an epic prose edda (yeah I know not quite Anglo Saxon) was to unfold alongside the personal story of our protagonist Rose. In The Crown of Rowan you have earthy magic, love, mystery and a hint of battle. Wilkins has sold me on the novel and any following set in this particular world.

Dindrana’s Lover is a reworking of Wilkins’, The Death of Pamela, and is the tale of Percival’s sister, left behind at the residence of Saint Triscula as he and Galahad go off on an adventure. It’s a reworking of Arthurian legend and I like its commentary on attitudes to desire and virginity. I am sure I am not the only reader that sincerely hoped Galahad would meet with a riding accident in this piece. The story is dark, sensuous and immersive.

He turned his gaze to her. “Virginity, Dindrana, is a woman’s only treasure. His hands, then, shall I remove them both?”

“You shall not touch him,” she said, imbuing her voice with more force than she actually felt. “Let him leave. You shall not act contrary to my wishes when you are the guest of my father.”

Galahad, courteous to a fault, put his sword away. “Go,” he said to Gabriel. “I shall be telling Dindrana’s father of this, so you’d best go for good. You will be unwelcome anywhere in Margris from this moment on.”

Gabriel stood uncertainly, reached for Dindrana. Instantly the sword was free again, swinging down and stopping a mere inch from Gabriel’s hand. “You will lose it,” Galahad threatened.

The passage made me want to kneecap Galahad with war hammer.

With Wild dreams of Blood we are treated to some Viking infused urban fantasy. It was reminiscent of The Almighty Johnsons in some ways and highlights Wilkins’ facility in being able to write across subgenres. It’s hard to swing a hammer without hitting Viking mythology these days and I thought Wilkins did a fantastic job of grounding this story in the modern and everyday to differentiate it.

My greatest praise though falls on the final story The Lark and the River. This one nearly broke me. It’s historical fiction with a touch of magic, indeed if it weren’t in a speculative fiction collection you could get away with sliding it into historical magical realism. The setting is England after the Norman conquest (another period of great change) there’s tension between the displaced Anglo-Saxons and their Norman lords, between the old gods and the new one. As with some of the previous stories the background conflict is mirrored by family and personal conflicts. This is a time of upheaval in which love blossoms despite the odds and… well I’ll let you read it.

Have the tissues handy though.

New stone churches were going up all over England. For years, we’d done what we ought and travelled to the chapel-at-ease, four miles away at Lissford, as good Christians are meant to do. Or sometimes we forgot to travel or forgot to pray or forgot about God all together, because he wasn’t as tied to our days and seasons as we needed him to be, and instead we went to the spear-stone, or the well, or the ancient yew tree, to leave offerings and tie ribbons for wishes. Our community’s faith was fluid and self-serving, and we enjoyed the freedom even as we knew the creep of containment was coming in the wake of William’s invasion.

Wilkins combines great craft with solid knowledge and understanding of the core material. We have a mix of subgenres and their attendant historical underpinnings(influences) in this collection and Wilkins’ skill is demonstrated in not being overt about it but letting her historical knowledge sit under the motivations and actions of the characters.

On reflection everyone of these stories displays strong female characters, where “strong” is demonstrated in a variety of ways. For male writers who can’t understand how to write a diverse array of female characters I’d urge you to take a look at Wilkins. For international readers just beginning to appreciate the likes of Daniells, Lanagan and Warren. Please add Wilkins to your list, I think she’s one of our best.

This book was provided by the crew at Ticonderoga Publishing.
Profile Image for Nathan.
Author 10 books15 followers
October 30, 2015
Kim Wilkins is, without doubt, one of the best writers of fantasy and speculative fiction Australia has ever produced. "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", a collection of five novellas, showcases her prodigious talent.

My favourite novella in the collection was "Dindrana's Lover", which is a clever story told about the sister of Percival from the Table Round. My least favourite - by quite some margin - was "Wild Dreams of Blood", which didn't grip me the way the other four novellas did.

"Crown of Rowan" was also very enjoyable and I would very much like to see the novel that is rumoured to be set in the same kingdom of Thyrsland.

All in all, a really great read from one of Australia's finest weavers of speculative fiction. Go get a copy and support a local Australian small press in the process.
Profile Image for Amanda.
68 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2015
I need an extra star for this because five isn't enough. I've loved Kim Wilkins's writing since her very first book, The Infernal. She captures the essence of the world she's writing in until you're right there, feeling the words wash over you, in the world she's created. This is a collection of stories, some of them set in the present day, some set in a medieval past, and one in a world that doesn't really exist at all. All the stories are wonderfully written but if I had to choose a favourite it would be The Year of Ancient Ghosts, for which the collection was named. Highly recommended for lovers of fantasy, historical fiction, historical romance, horror, and just plain good storytelling.
Profile Image for Tsana Dolichva.
Author 4 books63 followers
June 5, 2014
The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins is a collection of five novellas. It is also the first thing of hers that I've read (despite having bought one of her novels many years ago...). I initially bought it and started reading it because the first, titular, story was shortlisted for a Ditmar, but boy am I glad I did! Not for nothing was the collection also shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and did the same story win the Best Horror Short Story Aurealis and make the Fantasy shortlist as well.

The stories contained within this collection are a mix of modern and Medieval (ish) and take us on five very different journeys. Not being much of a historian, I didn't make the connection until the afterword, but all the stories are connected by common history. All of them, including the two modern ones, are set in or take cues from the Middle Ages.

I think my favourite was "The Year of Ancient Ghosts" and I can see why it was the story to garner award nominations when one or two others (the second is a bit murky and probably doesn't count) were also first published here. Not only is it a gut-wrenching tale, it's also probably more accessible than the others.

Of the three non-modern tales, I found myself wanting more from "The Crown of Rowan". Not because it was lacking, but because there was more to the world than we really got to see in detail in the story. I was pleased to learn, when I got to the end of the collection and read the afterword, that Wilkins is working on a novel set in the same world. I will definitely be reading it when it eventuates. (Actually, I just looked Wilkins up on iBooks and it looks like the novel, Daughters of the Storm, will be out in November, so yay.)

Individual stories aside (and you can, of course, read more of my thoughts on them below), Wilkins' writing is masterful. She has the knack of using the right words to tell the story without being unnecessarily flowery in language nor too dull. I'm not sure there was a bad sentence in the entire collection. The details, historical and otherwise, are also meticulously researched so that every detail rings true. I first noted it in the main character's reaction to having to go to a foreign supermarket in "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", but it persisted throughout.

I highly recommend this collection to pretty much everyone. It's an excellent read and the expertly-crafted stories will not disappoint. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for other books by Kim Wilkins (the one presently in my TBR is unfortunately on another continent) and I look forward to reading more of her work.


THE YEAR OF ANCIENT GHOSTS — Set in the present, a woman whose husband is in a coma (or similar) decides to go to Scotland (from Australia) with their two-year-old to visit his foster parents as they had originally planned. It’s a cold story (sometimes literally) with a feeling of creeping dread permeating through it. I feared for some of the characters, not sure how far into the realms of darkest horror Wilkins would take it. In the end, all I can say is: it was a wonderful and emotional tale.

THE CROWN OF ROWAN — This was a good story, but I was expecting it to be more dire than it was. It's set in a fairly low-technology fantasy world with small kingdoms, skirmishes and minor magic (hedge magic, maybe, although it wasn't defined in the story) and gives us a pretty good snapshot of what life is life for some of the characters, most notably the protagonist. The wife of a king is pregnant and the story follows her through the course of the pregnancy until just after the baby is born. There are also a few subplots, but she's the main focus. I said I was expecting it to be more dire, that's mainly because of the element of magical portents and messages but also because it finished too soon. Wilkins left us wanting more with some of the main character's choices hanging in the balance. I wanted to know what happened next!

DINDRANA’S LOVER — An Arthurian tale featuring Sir Percival's sister, Dindrana. There were a few elements to this: a magic castle that only the lost can find, with a mistress whose nature is hinted at in the epigraph, and a young maiden who, on the one hand can think on her feet and on the other resents being forced to remain a virgin until her eventual marriage to (she presumes) some horrible old man. I was amused by this tale, for all that it didn't end too cheerily. Oh, and I wanted to slap Galahad.

WILD DREAMS OF BLOOD — A present-day tale of a woman with super strength who has learnt to hide it her whole life. Her life starts to change when she finds out who her father is. A fairly straight-forward story, but very well-crafted.

THE LARK AND THE RIVER — Set in Conversion England, as Christianity is encroaching on heathen beliefs. Although not the saddest story in the collection (that honour goes to “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”), it had the saddest ending. Other people might disagree. The main character is the daughter of a violent man and, despite her father's anger at the church, she becomes fascinated by the new priest.

5 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 16 books120 followers
May 22, 2013
Kim Wilkins is one of the authors who has long been on my "automatically buy" list, so when Ticonderoga Press announced the publication of "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", a collection of novellas and short stories, I happily pre-ordered the signed limited edition hardcover. As an aside, if you're ever in the position where you're trying to decide if Ticonderoga's limited editions are worth the money, they absolutely are. They are absolutely beautiful books.

This collection is filled with vibrant, beautiful prose which highlights Wilkins' expertise in the medieval period. In all of the stories, fantasy blends seamlessly with reality, to the point where it is difficult sometimes to tell which elements are fantastical and which are historical.

The collection opens with the titular "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", original to this collection, in which Jenny, unable to live by the side of her husband Lachlan, comatose after an accident, brings her two-year-old daughter Mary to the Orkney Islands, a trip that had been planned in order for Lachlan to write a book there. The ancient atmosphere of the Orkneys is vividly captured, along with the magic and mystery of the place. Gripping and emotional from start to finish.

"The Crown of Rowan" is an fantasy piece, reprinted here, set in a fantasy version of eight-century England. Told from the perspective of Rose, wife of one of the kings of Thyrsland, this story, for me, doesn't quite hit the mark emotionally. In the afterward, Wilkins states that this story is a prequel to a fantasy epic in progress, and the worldbuilding in this indicates that the novel could be something really special.

"Wild Dreams of Blood", also a reprint, intertwines the life of a modern-day woman, Sara (named in memory of Sara Douglass, a fact which brought a tear to my eye when I read the afterward), with Norse mythology. Wilkins renders Sara, and her violent tendencies and strength, so vividly that the appearance of a Norse god feels just as real. One of my favourites from this collection.

"Dindrana's Lover" is another reprint, slightly reworked, in the Arthurian mythos, telling the story of Percival's sister, and what happens to her after she is left in a sinister castle by her brother and Galahad. Dindrana herself lives and breathes, bringing real life to her tragic story. Creepy, gorgeous and heartwrenching.

The last story in the collection is the original "The Lark and the River", which juxtaposes Christian mythology with the pagan/heathen worship which Christianity replaced. There is a real reverence for both kinds of religion in this piece, and Wilkins' beautiful prose highlights the emotion of the protagonist Merewyn as she confronts her fate.

Overall, this is a collection well worth owning, even if you own the books in which the reprinted stories first appeared. "The Year of Ancient Ghosts" alone is worth the price of the book, I think. If you're a fan of Wilkins, then buying this one is going to be a no brainer. And if you've never read her before, this could be a very good place to start.

Profile Image for Liz.
10 reviews17 followers
August 12, 2014
‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’ expertly combines the familiar and the fantastical, with five wondrous and terrifying novellas inspired by medieval literature and history. The myth, magic, and history the stories are steeped in, are renewed in the genuine characters and vivid landscapes Kim Wilkins creates.

'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is the first novella in Wilkins’ brilliant collection. After tragedy befalls Jenny McBride’s small family, she is left, to cope, without her husband. Jenny travels with her two-year-old daughter, Mary, from Australia to her husband’s childhood home in Northern Scotland: to connect with his past and escape her present.

Jenny’s character is raw and vulnerable; she manages grief and madness as her reality clashes with a world of Viking magic, ancient stones, and Orkney folklore. Along with the protagonist, readers begin to wonder whether the strange happenings are real or imagined “in a dim, liquid past, in the grip of jet lag and grim weather”.

The description of the Orkneys, with its magic and mythology, is expertly used to mirror the emotional turmoil of Wilkins’ protagonist. The resulting connection allows the reader to feel the character’s isolation, amplified by the macabre nature of the island.

The remaining four novellas in this collection showcase Kim Wilkins’ flair for storytelling - highlighting the heartening nature of existence alongside the harrowing truth of the human condition. The characters, and their worlds, evoke deeply visceral and emotive responses, which linger long after the final lines of each story.

The ghosts of this award-winning collection are guaranteed to haunt readers long after the covers are closed.
Profile Image for Mary.
321 reviews
October 20, 2013
I really like the stories in “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”. Some more than others but I think the two stories that stand out for me was” Dindrana’s Lover” and “The Lark and the River”. Both of these stories have religious undertones and backgrounds. Both have forbidden love, both have strong female characters. However all the stories are about women struggles in one form or another.
In “Dindrana’s Lover”, the end circles back to the beginning in an ironic way. The ironic part is how she gets what she wanted in the beginning but in a less than desirable way while her fate and courage leads her to rid the world of a monster.
There is also a strong female character in “The Lark and the River”. Again there are religious conflicts. This time between the regional pagan religion and the Christian religion that has become the law of the land. Again the main female character suffers much for following her heart.
The balance of the other stories I didn’t’ find the characters built as strongly or the stories as complete as my two favorite ones but they were enjoyable reads none the less.
782 reviews5 followers
January 15, 2015
this is a collection of beautiful stories, and I would probably rate it 4.5, if the half star was an option. It loses the point, because for me it was hard work to read. The stories were fascinating, the ideas were great, but the prose didn't drag me in, and I had to remind myself that this was what I was reading. Maybe another time, I'll find it more gripping, given that these are the kind of stories that usually grab me and don't let me go.

Of the five stories, I found "Dindrana's Lover" to be the stand out - a beautiful reworking/reimagining of a classic tale. Not quite a fairy tale reworking, but close enough that I had the same feel of being inside and seeing differently that I get with reworkings of well known fairy tales that I love.

These stories are not light reading. In each, the protagonist and the reader are cut fine, examined, and possibly put back together. But they are fascinating stories all the same.
Profile Image for Kate Forsyth.
Author 75 books2,308 followers
May 17, 2013
I LOVED this book! Kim Wilkins is one of my all-time favourite writers, spinning together suspense, romance, history and mythology into books that are utterly unputdownable (is that a word?) However, she's been busy the last few years writing parallel historical/contemporary books under the name Kimberley Freeman (still uputdownable but with a greater emphasis on family drama than mythology and fairy tale - read all about Kimberley Freeman's books HERE).

So I was very excited to be sent an advance copy of her first Kim Willkins' title in a few years. 'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once. I WANT MORE!
Profile Image for Mary-Rose MacColl.
Author 12 books165 followers
June 10, 2013
This is Kim Wilkins at her very best. These novellas - the form really suits her writing - are all in the space she explored in her earlier fiction. These stories have an energy that compels a reader. They are also well paced with some lovely characters. I loved the title novella The Year of Ancient Ghosts for its perfect balance of character and story, and The Lark and the River is just a perfect story. Dindrana's Lover, there's so much here to read and love. And The Crown of Rohan, I do hope will become the next Wilkins novel. Great characters, great story, great setting. Everything you'd want. Five stars.
Profile Image for Jill.
Author 1 book28 followers
April 20, 2016
All of these stories were 5 stars, so the rating was a no-brainer. It's amazing how this author can make me care so deeply about a character after only a few paragraphs!

Each tale was compelling and atmospheric and I'd read a full-length book for any of them. Luckily, my favorite story in this collection (The Crown of Rowan) is a prequel to a new Kim Wilkins novel/series called Daughters of the Storm, so I'll get my wish! I had to order DOTS directly from the press in Australia, but it was well worth the effort. So stay tuned for more Kim Wilkins fangirling soon... ;)
Profile Image for Helen.
5 reviews
March 30, 2014
Highly recommended. A wonderful collection of novellas by Kim Wilkins. This book reminded me just how good the fantasy genre can be! The well-written stories featuring complex female protagonists are such a delight to dip in to. “The Lark and the River” is especially moving. I also adored “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, which reawakened an old desire to travel to the Orkneys. I shall definitely be seeking out more work by this author.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
22 reviews12 followers
June 25, 2013
Kim is such a talent. She takes me to places in the past and in her imagination with such clarity and spine chillingness. I drunk this book up almost in one sitting. Thanks for writing it and thanks to Ticonderoga for publishing. Go Russell :)
Profile Image for Charlotte Nash.
Author 27 books144 followers
May 27, 2013
Amazing. Magical, visceral; heartening and heartbreaking at once. The Lark and the River deserves special mention. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Natasha.
12 reviews3 followers
October 22, 2013
As always amazing work by Kim, I was thrilled to read a collection of her short stories.
Profile Image for Donna.
225 reviews
August 21, 2018
Really enjoyed the stories in this one. First time reading Kim Wilkins and i will be pursuing other books by her. I loved the lark and the river but the ancient ghosts was my favorite.
Profile Image for Jo Berry ☀️.
218 reviews4 followers
February 9, 2022
I’ve not read anything by Kim Wilkins before, but I like short stories and I like anything that mentions ghosts, so I thought I’d give this collection of five stories a go.

First, I didn’t really hit it off with the writing style. It’s very much ‘tell’, rather than ‘show’. This made it hard to connect with the stories in an emotional way. I felt everything was being reported to me. I did check online to see if the author had a background in journalism, because if felt like they’d trained originally in informative writing (apparently not).

Then there’s the short stories themselves. The first one, ‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’, didn’t actually deliver any ghosts. We got sea monsters instead. This is a common problem with ‘ghost stories’ - we are lead to expect ghosts and hauntings, but get something completely different. However, this was the story with the most emotional complexity.

The second story, ‘The Crown of Rowan’, felt like the first few chapters of a novel - the author laid the groundwork for a bigger story, but then it just ended. Everything felt very underdeveloped.

‘Dindrana’s Lover’, I quite liked. Based on an old legend it was disturbing, with a Vampyric quality.

‘Wild Dreams of Blood’, was in a modern setting. I skimmed through, really.

‘The Lark and the River’, was a bit dragged out, and repeated it’s point about the new religion forcing out the old beliefs too much. If the writing style had been more show than tell, this probably wouldn’t have been so obvious. It could even have been been quite interesting, if the point had been illustrated with subtle, shown examples.

Overall, the collection was ok. The stories are well polished, but there’s no sparkle.
149 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2013
Some very interesting and spellbinding short stories. Definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Natalie Renna.
3 reviews2 followers
January 11, 2014
Great captivating short stories, my favourite from this was 'the Lark & the River'.
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