Saturday, September 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #244: Castle Waiting, Vol. 1 by Linda Medley

I should note that this book doesn't say that it's volume one: I got a copy from the library, which is the 2006 edition and came out several years before there was a Volume 2. Come to think of it, that is probably still the current edition of this book: there might not be hardcover copies out there that proclaim themselves to be number one.

In any case: Castle Waiting. By Linda Medley. Collecting the original Curse of Brambly Hedge one-shot and fourteen issues of the first and second and then first again (long story) volumes of the ongoing Castle Waiting series. It was never terribly ongoing: there were thirty-four issues from 1997 to 2012, for only a little over two a year on average.

(I wrote about the first volume in 2006 and the second one in 2010.)

To be really reductive about it, Castle Waiting is the anti-Fables. Where one is shocking and transgressive, the other is sweet and lovable. Where one is modern and harsh, the other is medieval and slow-paced. Where one is full of manly men doing manly deeds, the other is almost entirely about women.

Both, though, are about fairy tale characters, and what they got up to after their famous stories were over. Or, at least, both started off that way, before wandering into other territory.

So Curse of Brambly Hedge retells Sleeping Beauty, basically straight. Good witches, bad witches, baby princess, blessings, one curse, one revised blessing, a spindle on her fifteenth birthday, a hundred years of hedge and sleep, handsome prince, true love. In the end, the princess rides off with the prince, never to be seen again. But what happens to everyone else in the castle, all of those people who just woke up after a hundred years?

Well, at least some of them stuck around, in that forgotten castle out in the middle of nowhere. And the main Castle Waiting series picks up fifty or so years later, when a young woman named Jain -- heavily pregnant with a baby we learn is not her noble husband's -- arrives there, in search of this fabled place of refuge.

Mostly quiet things happen from there: she moves in, she has the baby, she (and we) meet the folks that live in the castle, and we have a long multi-part story mostly about the local nun's backstory. (Spoiler! She has a beard and was originally from a circus and then a group of bearded nuns. Even that is mostly about people being nice to each other, with a few minor exceptions.)

Now, there is some conflict in Castle Waiting. I'm exaggerating how nice and sweet and light everything is -- but not by all that much. This is, at its core, a story about people supporting each other, and forming strong communities, and finding ways to help each other. That may seem rare or bizarre, which is a sad thing to believe.

Medley tells all of these stories in a precise, detailed style, with particular emphasis on faces and gestures and architectural details enough to thrill a medievalist. It is entirely lovely and almost entirely sweet.

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