Saturday, 28 December 2013

Anna Reviews: FAIR WEATHER by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Fair Weather 

I might as well come clean immediately; I loved this book – all the way from the first page to the last, I was totally engrossed, finding it difficult to break off for such mundane things as going to work, or eating. Actually, the only thing I don’t like about this book is the title, as it comes nowhere close to insinuating the tantalizing contents within its covers, no matter that Fairweather is the alias of one of the main characters.
Ms Gaskell Denvil has in Fair Weather written a skilful and complex time-slip, alternating between Molly’s real life in the here and now, and her dream life, when she is sucked backwards in time. Molly is a writer, and as she begins working on a novel set in medieval London, the dreams she’s had since childhood become even more intense, and even if she tries to ignore them – she even abandons her book – it is far too late, and Molly can no more stop herself from being sucked into Tilda, a young woman living in King John’s London, than she can stop herself from breathing.
Medieval London
Tilda has had a rough life. Born a serf, she leaves the manor when her mother dies and makes for London. Once there, she is taken under the protective wing of Vespasian, at first glance medieval version of Mr Fagin – except that he is somewhat kinder to the children under his care. Tilda is in love with her benefactor. Vespasian considers her a child.
Vespasian is the sun round which the life of his ragged band revolves. When he is gone – and he often is, on one mysterious adventure or the other – Tilda and her friends mope. He comes back, and they all shine up, eager to please him as well as they can. Ms Gaskell Denvil does a fantastic job of portraying this enigmatic man. The reader – and Molly, through Tilda’s eyes – soon figures out there is far more to Vespasian than his midnight eyes and odd name.
Interspersed with Tilda’s and Vespasian’s life in King John’s England, are passages from Molly’s modern life, featuring not only Molly but also her ex-husband Bertie. As her dreams intensify, Molly is dragged into a non-existence, hanging precariously between reality and her dream world. Her ex-husband considers her obsessed. Molly agrees, but is also convinced that the people she dreams of are as real as she is – but from the 13th century.
I must admit to initially hurrying through the passages set in modern time, so anxious was I to get back to excellently depicted medieval London. Ms Gaskell Denvil presents us with a seething metropolis, complete with throngs of people, paupers, beggars, stinks and smells. So well does she paint the ancient streets of London that I begin to wonder if maybe she’s been dreaming of it too.
Molly’s modern life is rocked by a brutal murder. A woman, Wattle, who is presently dating her ex-husband, is found hanging upside down from a tree. Strangely enough, the thick snow carpeting the ground only shows up the woman’s footprints, so who was her attacker? Molly is devastated by all this. When next she is dragged into Tilda’s head, she comes across the body of a young woman named Isabel, also one of Vespasian’s charges, who has been horribly mutilated. It quickly becomes obvious Isabel’s murder was intended as a message to Vespasian, further confirming Molly’s – and the reader’s – suspicion that Vespasian is far more than he seems.

As Molly is successively dragged more and more often into the 13th century, strange things – awful things – begin to happen in the present. Yet another woman is killed, and this time she has been mutilated in the same way as Isabel. It is as if Molly has unwittingly breached the veils of time, inviting the past into the present – or is it the other way around?
Molly has concerns that she may be going crazy – the life of the 13th century is becoming increasingly more real, and she worries she might be developing multiple personalities. After all, her mother has spent the last few decades in a mental asylum, and insanity can be hereditary.
Things take a turn for the worse. Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say that more people are murdered in the present, just as many die in the past. Poor Tilda/Molly is subjected to  torture and pain, at the hands of an ancient sect dedicated to Lilith, a most repulsive and evil deity with a propensity for taking on the shape of a giant toad. (And here was I believing Lilith was a beautiful temptress.)
Fair Weather becomes a fascinating story of good against evil, of men who sell their souls for power, of magic and ancient rituals. And in all this mess, Molly is to play a pivotal role, destined since birth to stand on the side of the good against the advancing hordes of Lilith’s sycophants.
Given the book’s central theme of good and evil, it is somewhat apt that the final confrontation takes place at Samhain. After reading Ms Gaskell Denvil’s depiction of just what can be found walking the night on Hallow’s Eve, I think I will ensure to stay inside all my future Halloweens – just in case.
From a stylistic point of view, Ms Gaskell Denvil makes excellent use of the first and third person narrative. Molly is always in first person, Tilda is in first person the first time we meet her, but as Molly invades her head, Ms Gaskell Denvil uses first person for Molly – even when she is in Tilda’s head – and third person for anything Tilda might say or do of her own accord. This allows the writer to have Molly directing herself directly to Vespasian via Tilda (who, we must assume, must at times feel quite possessed) while on other occasions it is Tilda herself who speaks to Vespasian. This also allows Molly to comment on everything that she finds strange in the 13th century, while Tilda would never consider such things as fleas and rats, outside privies and mouldy bread, to even be worth mentioning.
I was particularly impressed by how the author described Molly’s confusion as she travelled back and forth through time. One day she wakes on a pallet covered with straw, the next day she’s back in her own bed, and as her time travelling increases, it becomes more and more difficult for Molly to handle the transition, to the point that she feels somewhat intimidated by the accoutrements of her modern life. There is an excellent scene involving Molly, a pack of tarot cards (of course there are tarot cards in a story involving magic and good and evil!) and Vespasian, where they are both in some sort of in-between space.

Barbara at home

Further to this, Ms Gaskell Denvil has a poet’s ear for language. Her descriptions are evocative, her dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the prose flows like molten chocolate (said by a chocolate fan). For those of you familiar with Ms Gaskell Denvil’s writing, it comes as no surprise when I add that as always the historical setting, including clothes, interiors and food, is presented in detail and elegantly woven into the narrative. And then there are the characters as such: Molly with all her insecurities, now and then quite convinced she’s as insane as her mother, but capable of enormous courage when it is required of her; Tilda, an uneducated young girl with an engaging innocence, but, just like Molly, brave when she has to be; Vespasian, broody and dark, a man living by his own rules, a man who has conquered the secrets of time.
Fair Weather is something of an emotional roller-coaster, this due to the most enigmatic Vespasian. We love him, we hate him, we love him again, and we never truly understand him, this man who is at once capable of such cruelty – albeit for a greater good – but also of fierce, possessive love. The story as such is just as entrancing, and as the bodies pile up and the police stand befuddled, I experience moments of heartache and fear, of hope and despair.
To those that have as yet to experience Ms Gaskell Denvil’s excellent writing skills, I can but say “Congratulations”. Ms Gaskell Denvil has published three books, and sadly I have already read all three. However, as I hear it, Ms Gaskell Denvil is considering a sequel to Fair Weather, and I for one am already waiting for it – longing for it – as Molly and Vespasian have taken up permanent residence in my heart.
Fair Weather is available on Amazon UK and US

About the author
Ms Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in England, but lives since many years in Australia. She has so far published three books: Satin Cinnabar, Summerford’s Autumn and Fair Weather.
Read more about Barbara on Goodreads

This novel was reviewed by Anna Belfrage author of The Graham Saga

If you would like Anna or another member of our review team to review your book on The Review, see our submissions tab at the top of the page.


  1. Fabulous review of an intriguing time - slip novel.

  2. This is a novel I have to read and am right now off to chase it up. Fabulous review. I adore time slips well written. I am certainly hooked on the brilliant ideas contained in this one already.

  3. Very intriguing--and like I feel about Anna's writing, I also love Barbara's. I hope you both live forever so you can keep it up. I have this on my Kindle and have been buying out more time for reading, so will get to it one of these days!