BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
Intriguing blend of Christian themes, Arthurian legends and time travel
, August 17, 2013
FROM WHATEVER SHADOWS THEY COME
by Agnes-Mary Brooke
(Nelson, NZ: The Medlar Press)
Paperback: 211 pages
Reviewed by Siobhan Reeves
Few book plots utterly defy summary. From Whatever Shadows They Come, by Agnes-Mary Brooke (aka Amy Brooke), is such a rarity.
This novel for young adults is extraordinarily complex given its brevity, and could be confusing for the inattentive reader.
It melds together aspects of Christian-inspired legends, the romantic tales of King Arthur, Celtic mythology, time travel and science fiction in an intertwined blend of different characters’ first-person narratives.
It is rather counter-intuitive for the narrator to tell of Christ’s childhood, as Brooke does in her novel, in the context of an extraterrestrial race watching Earth and possessing its own foundational mythology of cryptically named Older Others and Outer Others (it is hinted these are remnants of the great battle of the angels in Heaven).
However, in spite of its abounding strangeness, some passages in the book are strikingly beautiful and the characters genuinely intriguing.
My favourite passage was the one describing the relationship between the Christ child and his foster-father, Joseph:
“The birthday cup was the jeweller’s present … made especially for Joseph, who loved silver better than gold — because of the silver shine of dewdrops on a spider’s web, because of the silver sheen on running water, the silver of the moon breaking through dark clouds … because of its purity.
“It shone like his beloved Mary, he thought. The goblet itself was shaped superbly, its base studded with tiny grapes, each separated by the shape of a small cross, the significance of which was not realised at the time. Its beautifully-worked handles, curling inward, were contrived like the tendrils of the wild briar rose, sprays of which Joseph could never resist bringing back for Mary….
“The jeweller had faithfully followed the boy’s specifications.”
This beautifully-described cup is the crux of the story. It causes bloodshed on Earth and beyond as three royal princes from the extraterrestrial House of Elix and a young priestess seek to find answers to the instability tearing their home planet apart after the disappearance of the king and queen, who are seemingly neither dead nor alive.
The action moves from extra-terrestrial planets to medieval Europe, ancient China and contemporary New Zealand as the characters travel through a series of unconventional and mystifying time-travel portals.
In its prologue, From Whatever Shadows They Come quotes from G.K. Chesterton’s great classic, The Ballad of the White Horse, published in 1911. In this way the narrator links the drama of her story with Chesterton’s epic ballad concerning the Saxon King Alfred the Great’s eventual defeat of the invading Danes and the ongoing battle of Christianity against the forces of darkness.
In the ballad, the Virgin Mary appears to Alfred in a vision and warns him:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
The relevance of this prophesy to the story’s plot is partially disclosed in the dramatic final scenes of the novel, although it still remains open to interpretation.
This mystical story, with its myriad themes, plot devices and extraneous mythology, requires close and attentive study to avoid confusion.
Recommended for the intelligent and committed reader.