This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
15.10.2018 / Gollancz (Orion) / Folklore – Mythology / Hardback / 224pp / 978-1473222236
Target Audience: Mythology, folklore and fairytale lovers. Those who enjoy a familiar narrative with plenty of fantastic twists.
About The Blue Salt Road
A perfect autumn and Christmas read, this combines the harshness of nature with the spookiness of a ghost story and the comfort of a great folk tale, in one beautifully told novella which is stunningly illustrated by Bonnie Hawkins.
An earthly nourris sits and sings
And aye she sings, “Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in.
(Child Ballad, no. 113)
So begins a stunning tale of love, loss and revenge, against a powerful backdrop of adventure on the high seas, and drama on the land. The Blue Salt Road balances passion and loss, love and violence and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless, wild young man.
Passion drew him to a new world, and trickery has kept him there – without his memories, separated from his own people. But as he finds his way in this dangerous new way of life, so he learns that his notions of home, and your people, might not be as fixed as he believed.
Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.
Ever since I started reading Joanne M. Harris’ tales of Norse mythology, I have acquired an insatiable appetite for more. I can’t seem to get enough of her work with myths, lore and folk tales. When I saw that JMH was approaching the mythos of sea in The Blue Salt Road, I had to give it a go. In 8 short volumes (read this in one sitting) Harris delves into the lore behind the Selkie. They are mythical Seals who can shed their sealskins and take on a human form (Therianthropy) which allows them to exist on land to walk amongst The Folk.
The Selkie and The Folk are locked in an never-ending war. The Folk kill the Selkie for their skins to wear and sell and in turn the Selkie take unfortunate sailors lives while they are at sea. The Selkie are warned never to trust The Folk but one curious Selkie goes against the wishes of his elders and falls in love with a young woman. The woman, Flora, becomes pregnant and fears that the wild young Selkie will flee back to sea leaving her to deal with the shame of being abandoned. So she steals the Selkie’s seal skin and locks it away in her Cedar chest and with it, the memory of his old life.
The Selkie, now unknowingly trapped as a human, must provide for his family and sets out to sea on a whale boat to hunt for the natural riches within, including his own kind. The selkie has a fierce attachment to sea that he doesn’t understand, finding the harsh conditions at sea agree with him. As time goes on the Selkie finds he will gladly put himself in harms way to protect the beautiful creatures that reside within his ocean. The crew of the Kraken don’t take these actions lightly and the Selkie begins to fear he may never make it home to his unborn child.
The Blue Salt Road is a tale of discovery, a story of entrapment, an account of terror and a poem of unconditional love. Joanne M. Harris is a wondrous writer who can spin the darkest tale and still leave room for hope. I was captivated by this story. I don’t usually do fairy tales but this one had me hanging on every word. I thought that usually the dark and gritty essence of a fairy tale was implied or hidden between the lines but not here. I was under the inpression that this would be a charming love story but again I was very wrong.
Harris has created a tale that shocks to the core, that drives the reader to the conclusion with haunting yet courageous prose and leaves people like me unsettled by the capabilities of man. Harris has a deep appreciation for nature and that only serves to enrich the story telling. It immersed me fully into the narrative as Harris describes the sea life, the sea itself and the boats that sail on its surface.
The narrative itself was as eerie and dark as it was hopeful and invigorating. I thought the Selkie’s journey was an important one and there are so many meanings and messages within JMH’s writing. Themes like control, family, manipulation, animal cruelty, the wonders of nature, extinction and parenthood are all potent as well as thoughtful. I found it hard to stomach Flora’s actions and her family’s subsequent choices concerning their unborn child but I also understood (to a degree) why she did what she did.
The consequences for the Selkie were vast but his journey out to sea with his father-in-law was as marvellous as it was unsettling and even brutal at times. JMH is such a nuanced writer who can change the tone or atmosphere at a moments notice with precision. Turning horror into relief or wonder into pain. Joanne M Harris did a fantastic job tackling a new (to me) area of mythology and I cannot wait to see what she thinks up next. The Blue Salt Road is a must read for all mythology and folklore lovers.
About Joanne M. Harris
Joanne Harris is the author of the Whitbread-shortlisted CHOCOLAT (made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp) and many other bestselling novels. Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse, and lives with her husband and daughter in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from the place she was born.