Spellhaven is no more, but its spirits remain.
In the dining room, Tilda set out the silver, mostly jugs and pots she and Alick had been given as wedding presents. Helping the servants clean the silver had been a treat to her as a small child, growing up in the country. From the beginning of their marriage, she and Alick had never had what the previous generation would have regarded as a satisfactory complement of servants and Tilda had reduced her household still further after Alick’s death. She had decided then that cleaning the silver would be a task she could take on herself, though she did not do it often enough.
She showed the boy what to do and then gave him the teapot to work on while she tackled the coffee jug. Once they were both warmed up, she spoke without looking at him. ‘Did your uncle explain why I wanted to see you?’
The boy’s voice was high but steady. ‘Gray Minor told you about last week.’
‘And that worried me. Will you please tell me as best you can what has happened to you?’
The boy rubbed away fiercely for a while. Then he said, ‘I don’t want to see any more doctors.’
Tilda glanced at him. ‘Why should you?’
More rubbing before he said, ‘Old Digger said you don’t believe in ghosts but you’re more sensible than most grown-ups. But every time I’ve tried to explain to anyone, they take me to another doctor. I’ve had my ears and eyes tested, and my nerves, and answered silly questions about my dreams. I hate doctors.’
‘Old Digger?’ Tilda asked.
‘Gray Major.’ His voice eased a little. ‘Because he’s so deep, you know.’
‘I know.’ The boy sounded perfectly rational, even mature for his age. On the other hand, that was not how he had behaved. ‘You might have burned down the school.’
‘The fire was in the grate.’ He stopped work to glare at her. ‘It was a stupid thing to do but it wasn’t dangerous.’
Tilda rubbed at smears of polish in the fluting at the base of the coffee pot. ‘You must have been very unhappy to do such a stupid thing.’
‘I’m used to being unhappy,’ the boy said. ‘I was angry.’ He turned back to the silver. ‘Those books made people believe ghosts can be funny or exciting, but Mr Fletcher thought I was cheeking him when I said he was leading our minds astray.’
‘Why did you care so much?’
Hugo shook his head. He bent forward over the polishing but Tilda could see his mouth working. She waited, her own hands still, until at last he whispered, ‘I never meant to summon a ghost. I made a mistake’
‘What kind of mistake?’
‘I tried to make white magic.’
‘Not you as well,’ Tilda said and the boy looked at her in puzzlement. She heard the fury in her voice and sat back. ‘Who has been talking to you about magic?’
‘It was in a book. A grown-up book about primitive tribes. I didn’t think it would work nowadays, though.’
So the Exiles had nothing to do with this. In any case, as James had guessed, drat him, she could not be angry with this child. Tilda picked up her polishing cloth and spoke as neutrally as she could. ‘Then what made you try it?’
‘I suppose I was even more fed up than usual. I’d had to stay on at school by myself over the summer holidays, not this year but the one before, because Granny was ill. I did a lot of reading, which was all right, but I started counting the days before the other boys got back. Then I remembered how none of them would be pleased to see me.’
He sounded embarrassed, as though his loneliness was his own fault. Tilda thought back to the times in her childhood when she had belonged to no one. ‘What did you do?’
‘I made a kind of game from what I’d been reading. I went out onto the Heath to do an invocation for someone to come and keep me company, to be with me for always. I didn’t expect it to work.’
He was trembling now and sweating, his voice indignant. Tilda pretended not to notice. ‘Then what happened?’
‘The ghosts came and snarled at me. Ghosts of people who have died on the Heath, murdering gangs who quarrelled and stabbed one another, and robbers who were hanged on gibbets at the top of the hill. At first, I could hardly understand what they said, they speak so rough, but I could tell they were angry. I ran away but they came after me. They never leave me, though it’s worse at night.’
‘Why are they angry?’
‘They don’t want to be companions to a boy, a namby pamby weakling. They say they were better off wandering lonely on the Heath. Once I got used to the way they talk, I begged them to tell me how to release them, but they only laughed.
‘“You’ve made your bed,” they said and “Try if that little penknife can reach your heart. Then you’ll be one of us and never whimper in fright again.”’
About the Book:
Tilda Gray hates Spellhaven, the city where her husband was born, even though she has never set foot in the place, and she does not believe in the magic it’s supposed to have held. Now her husband is dead, she would rather avoid any mention of the city. But her sons, Nicholas and James, have befriended Hugo, a young boy threatened by forces none of them understand. When Hugo’s uncle and guardian, Stephen Cole, visits the Gray family to ask for help, Tilda agrees against her better judgement. Between them, as they search for ways to banish or at least help Hugo cope with the ghosts that are driving him mad, they seek out the dubious aid of the exiles from Spellhaven. In doing so they must face new dangers and unknown magic, unlike anything Tilda could have believed possible.
Print Length: 300 pages
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Genre(s): Magical Realism, Historical Fantasy
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Read an Excerpt:
Stephen Cole would never have asked for help on his own account, not from strangers and especially not from a woman and a couple of young boys. Since his slow recovery from his experiences in the trenches during the First World War, he had devoted himself to his work at the Bar and had spent little time in the company of women or children. But the help was for his nephew, Hugo, and by the time Stephen arrived at the Grays’ house in Highgate one Sunday morning in November 1933, he did not know where else to turn.
When he was shown into the drawing room, Stephen looked round to try and gain an impression of the family. He decided that the room had been decorated about ten years ago and hardly changed since then. The yellow and grey curtains had lost their bloom and the wooden feet on the armchairs were scuffed, but the parquet floor round the carpet was thoroughly polished, as were the tiles inset into the fireplace. Mrs. Gray must have had skilled and hardworking servants, not as easy to find as they would once have been. Botanical illustrations hung on the panelled walls. Stephen had no time to notice more before Mrs. Gray entered the room.
Her appearance took Stephen aback. When he had been told she was a widow, somehow he had pictured a middle-aged woman, dumpy and depressed. Maybe he had been thinking of Queen Victoria, even though he had seen enough war widows in the early days of his practice to know they came in all shapes and styles. Matilda Gray was tall for a woman, with light eyes and a pointed chin. Her pale brown hair was bobbed and smooth. She wore a fawn twin-set and a brown skirt, not new or fashionable but shapely and trim.
‘Thank you for seeing me on a Sunday, Mrs. Gray,’ Stephen said. ‘It’s your son, Nicholas, I’d really like to talk to. He is home for the weekend, isn’t he?’
Hugo lived at school all term, and often in the holidays as well, but Stephen had been told that the Grays were weekly boarders.
‘The boys are at breakfast, Mr. Cole.’ Mrs. Gray looked as wary of him as he was of her.
‘I hope your maid gave you my apologies for disturbing you.’
‘It doesn’t matter, but you will have to explain what this is about before I decide whether Nicholas should be involved.’
‘Very well, although he is already involved in a way.’
She frowned and raised her chin at that but she said, ‘Please sit down.’
Stephen folded himself into the nearest chair as his hostess settled down opposite.
‘I’m here on behalf of my nephew, Hugo. He’s at school with Nicholas and he’s in trouble. The school is threatening to send him down.’
‘And you believe that Nicholas has something to do with this?’
The words were chipped out of ice. Stephen took a breath and sat back. ‘I’m not suggesting your boy is to blame, Mrs. Gray. I’m just trying to understand what happened.’
‘Did the school send you here?’ She sounded politely incredulous and he did not blame her.
‘I asked if I could speak to some of Hugo’s friends and the school refused. But they did say he only appeared to have one friend and that was Gray Major. They wouldn’t give me the address but Hugo did. It was about the one thing he was willing to tell me. He hardly knows me so I’m not surprised he doesn’t trust me.’
‘I take it his parents are away?’
‘In China. They haven’t been home for six or seven years, since they brought Hugo over to start him at school. I haven’t been in touch. I was – preoccupied after the war and I’ve never had much to do with children. My mother used to deal with Hugo, but she is not at all well now, so there’s nobody else.’
‘That is difficult for you but I still don’t understand how we can help you.’
‘I’m hoping Hugo might have confided in your son. But even if he doesn’t know what happened last week, if he can just talk to me about Hugo and what might have got him into this state, I’d be grateful.’
Mrs. Gray looked down at her hands for a long moment. Then she nodded. ‘Please wait here for a moment.’
‘…Spellhaven is an intriguing novel with no easy answers or way out, which means you can keep rereading it and drawing different conclusions every time. Jane is never going to be entirely happy and settled in life – but would she ever have been, even without her magical summons?
Refreshingly, it does not appear to be part of a series: that ending ambiguity is all you’re getting and it will keep buzzing at the back of your mind for days.’ ~ Ben Jeapes, author of Phoenicia’s Worlds and other SF novels, from the BSFA review
Meet the Author:
Sandra Unerman lives in London in the UK. When she retired from a career as a Government lawyer, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, specialising in science fiction and fantasy, and graduated in 2013. Since then, she has had a number of short stories published. Her latest stories are in Sword and Sorcery magazine, June 2017, and Fall into Fantasy, an anthology from Cloaked Press. She writes reviews and articles for the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. She is a member of London Clockhouse writers and other writing groups. Her interests include history, folklore and medieval literature.
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