Do we share the planet with other life forms such as fairies? Veteran British fantasist Joyce (The Silent Land, 2011, etc.) lets the possibility dangle in this absorbing work.
She’s come home. Tara Martin disappeared when she was not quite 16. Police combed her neighborhood in the English Midlands; her parents and protective older brother Peter were frantic. Her boyfriend Richie was the prime suspect. They had broken up over Tara’s pregnancy. She didn’t want to keep the baby; he did. No evidence, though, so no charges. Now, 20 years later, Tara shows up on her parents’ doorstep. She’s grubby and disheveled but scarcely older than the day she left. Peter now has his own family. Richie has been in a deep funk, his music his only refuge (he’s a superb guitarist). Very reluctantly, Tara tells Peter her story. On that shimmering May day, in a primeval forest carpeted in bluebells, Tara had been approached by a handsome man riding a white horse. He was relaxed and nonthreatening. He described his idyllic world and Tara willingly agreed to enter it; they made the crossing at twilight. Once there, she wanted to return, but that would take six months (or 20 human years). As Tara feared, Peter is incredulous; he arranges a shrink, who finds her sane but delusional. All this is excellently done; expertly grounded, suspensefully told. Joyce only stumbles in describing Hiero the horseman’s world. His people come across as promiscuous hippies, but they also have a bloodlust for gladiatorial combat and can ride bumblebees. If they’re not “little people with lacy wings,” then what exactly are they, other than dangerous? Hiero’s later transition from tenderhearted altruist to hostile stalker is especially jarring. However, the case for a hidden world is bolstered when the shrink, more clever than wise, gets his comeuppance, and an ancient neighbor confides to Tara that she too had once visited that world.
Keep an open mind, suggests Joyce with considerable charm.