Tuesday, March 4, 2014

High Hallack

I've written before about my discovery of Witch World before. Reading that first story, "The Toads of Grimmerdale", by a long dead author, courtesy of an even longer dead editor was some sort of blessing from the book fates (you know, the same ones that let you find that near perfect first edition paper back original you've been hunting for years while rummaging through the boxes at a church book fair). I really didn't expect to discover a decades old series that would so catch my attention. Four novels and two collections of short stories in I have yet to be disappointed.

If you haven't tried Witch World yet, I'd say give the story collection Lore of the Witch World. It's got the aforementioned "Toads" and six other stories. The novels, especially Witch World and Year of the Unicorn, are very good, but the short stories are even better.

Year of the Unicorn (which I just reviewed over at Black Gate), is the first book in the High Hallack sequence (the Estcarp sequence is the other). Norton based High Hallack on Yorkshire during the time of the viking invasions. She mimics history with the terrible war between the various small kingdoms of High Hallack and the invaders from Alizon across the sea.

From what I've read so far, her greatest concerns with the war are appear to be not the battles but the dislocation of people and the overturning of the traditional order in High Hallack. There are too many widows and too few people tending the fields. Refuge is found only in distant, barren places.

There's a realistic current of steady loss that runs through the High Hallack stories that gives them more resonance than encountered in much standard heroic fantasy. Even with the happiest of endings in her stories there's an understanding that prices must be paid, even if willingly remitted. I've read that some of the later books are a little dull but they're all pretty short and all together (according to ISFDB) they only add up to about 3500 pages. That's what, four Steven Erikson books? It's only a little more than the first five Wheel of Time books.

Musically, this past week has been a deeper digging into British music. first I kept listening to Ocean Colour Scene. Then I mixed it up with the Charlatans, a band that came out of the Manchester trippy dance scene best typified by the Stone Roses. When Britpop hit in the mid-nineties, the Charlatans added some traditional rock sounds to their looser, more dance floor ones and created some really great music.

After that I went back to the Modfather himself, Paul Weller. That led directly to digging out the other mod revivalist that appeared in the wake of Weller and the Jam in the seventies, like Secret Affair and the Lambrettas. This past week all these bands made me almost wish I was someone who'd get out on the dance floor.


  1. It's been years since I read Norton. I should give her another try.

  2. She may not be the most contemporary sounding author but she's got more life than a heck of a lot of people writing today. The short stories are definitely the best gateway to Witch World.

  3. Good series. I don't think Lore appeared as a collection until much later. I'd read the first three or four novels in the series by then.

  4. You are correct (according to ISFDB). It's 1980 and Witch World itself is like '65. I still can't believe I never tried her stories until so recently.