An Appalachian woman and her son struggle to protect their mountain home in Collins’ (The Hunter of Hertha, 2015, etc.) historical-fantasy series starter.
In 1894, Delta Wade lives on Shadow Mountain with her young son, Lafette. Arn Marlon, Delta’s missing common-law husband, is a Watcher: a person who can wield the mountain’s magic and protect its people from harm. Delta hopes that Arn, long rumored dead, will return to raise his son as the next Watcher and protect their home from the Kingsleys, a rich family that’s bringing in industrialization and all the changes that come with it. The Kingsley family patriarch, King Kingsley, once tried to kill Arn and now harasses Delta in order to get harvesting rights to the magical Tyme trees covering Shadow Mountain. Kingsley’s son, the kind and handsome Henry, is desperately in love with Delta and tries to protect her from his father, while Kate Huston, Delta’s former mentor, seeks to take ownership of the mountain, claiming that only her stronger magic can keep it safe. Dueling economic and magical powers lead to a cataclysmic event that destroys multiple characters’ lives. Years later, an isolated Delta and a grown Lafette get a slim opportunity to revive what’s been lost. The fictional world of Shadow Mountain is complex and layered, with multiple characters all pursuing different, if sometimes-overlapping, goals. The result is a riotous, complex tale that still feels somber and elegiac as old ways conflict with new changes. Fittingly enough for a battle over a place, Collins’ descriptions of the setting are particularly vivid; a stand of poplar trees, for example, are “so tall they seemed like strings dropping from the sky.” The book’s first part brims with narrative tension as the conflicting interests come to a head, but the second part feels slacker, with less clearly defined conflicts, greater reliance on magical events and mystical sightings, and an ending that borders on a deus ex machina. But Collins’ well-defined, likable characters and colorful atmosphere are enjoyable throughout even when the plotting gets less coherent.
A vivid first installment of a saga that will make readers look forward to the next.