by Katherine Matthe
The latest offering from O.R. Melling is not exactly a sequel to The Hunter’s Moon; rather, it is meant to explore the consequences of Finvarra, the High King of the Fairies, having become mortal. As Melling puts it in the author’s note: “Rather like a pebble dropped into a pool, the ripples will continue to affect both their world and ours.” The Summer King deals with that “ripple effect” and explores the tenuous and ever-shifting balance between the mortal and fairie worlds where things are not always as they seem.
Seventeen-year-old Laurel Blackburn has returned to Ireland to visit her grandparents. She is still grieving the death of her twin sister, Honor. Honor had planned to be a writer, and her journal recorded her thoughts and actions in the days leading up to her fatal hang-gliding accident. Laurel attempts to decipher her sister’s cryptic entries in order to make sense of her sister’s early death.
What Laurel discovers is that her sister had planned to undertake a mission that would earn her passage into Fairie, a world that obsessed her. Level-headed Laurel has no use for fairyland; the very idea brings out the skeptic in her. Yet, when confronted by the cluricaun who first made contact with Honor, Laurel finds it difficult to avoid facing up to Fairie, especially when she is told that should she successfully complete Honor’s mission, she would have the opportunity both to win her sister’s place in Fairie (which is “one of the rooms in Our Father’s mansion”), and to see her sister once more. Laurel takes the cluricaun’s advice to act as if she believes and to judge the results after, and sets off on the mission to find the Summer King and have him light the Midsummer fire, and thus renew the bond between the two worlds.
Melling’s lush description and imagery root us in the Irish landscape. The sense of place is powerful and magical, and her fresh images of Fairie and its various inhabitants are only occasionally marred by cliché. The action is fast-paced, and we are compelled to become as involved as Laurel does in her quest. Only the novel’s ending—flat and heavy-handed—fails to be as rewarding as the earlier adventure promised.
Katherine Matthews is a Toronto writer and reviewer.