*I received a free ARC of this book. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Murder. Magic. A ghost or two.
Three spooky adult tales inspired by folklore.
Leaving Birds comprises three short stories, along with an author commentary for each. The stories are linked with the Selkie Moon prequel short story Laying Ghosts (my review here) in terms of theme and content, and provide additional context for the inspiration behind that story.
As such these stories, whilst well-written, form more of a companion volume than a stand-alone book, and I would recommend reading Laying Ghosts first, as there are some minor spoilers here. Effectively this book is like the bonus features bit of a DVD.
The stories themselves are varied.
The first ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ is a traditional folklore legend about a vulnerable woman with magical properties and her unfortunate fate. This is quite a short tale and simply told in the familiar ‘Once upon a time’ style.
Once deep in a forest there lived a strange and magical woman. She had no mother or father, and no-one knew how she came to live alone in the crude hut she called home. But in their dreams, the local men were haunted by her beautiful presence for she had long hair that reached to her waist, the colour of spun gold. They called her Gilda.
– Virginia King, “The Woman with Hair of Gold”, retold from a Russian folktale.
‘Peig’s Place’ is also a folklore tale, but more of a modern one with a dash of romance thrown in amongst the ghosts. This was my personal favourite, as it was a rounded story in its own right, with developed characters, and gave me a taste of Virginia King’s storytelling voice which I had already enjoyed in my previous sample.
It was when I was suddenly awake that I realised I’d been dead to the world. What had woken me? A noise? The darkness was complete, and as I lay there straining my ears I had the strongest sense that something was in the room with me. Surely I could hear breathing, or was it just my own ragged breath? Then a weight landed on my legs and I almost cried out.
– Virginia King, “Peig’s Place”, a modern ghost story reimagined from an Irish folktale.
Finally there is a recounting of the folk ballad that inspired and featured in Laying Ghosts, with some narrative from the author about the basis and truth of the events in historical fact. This was not strictly speaking a ‘story’, but I did find it interesting to discover that the legendary ‘done wrong by her lover’ ballad could have roots in real events.
He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,
Then into the grave her body did throw.
He covered her body, then home he did run,
Leaving none but birds her death to mourn
– Virginia King, “Polly’s Folly”, sleuthing out the clues to the possibly true crime behind a traditional English murder ballad.
All-in-all this is, as I said, a nice companion piece to Laying Ghosts for those interested in the genesis of folktales and the variations in their recounting. I don’t feel that it stands alone as a novel without the relevant story for context, and therefore strongly recommend that this comes after Laying Ghosts, for readers who want to delve into that tale in greater depth.
Check out my review of Laying Ghosts in my Short Story Special! here.