A Pocketful of Crows written by Joanne M. Harris
Cover by Sue Gent
Illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins
Published by Gollancz in October 2017
233 pages in hardback
a fierce story of love, death and natural magic
A reader’s perspective
Gollancz have produced a beautiful book – the cover is black with gold design work by Craig Fraser and art by Sue Gent. This gives it a richly Gothic feeling. The illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins (who sounds like she should be in a ballad herself) are in exquisitely detailed pencil. There are delicate vignettes of the natural world throughout, and twelve full page images.
This mixture of the dark and the natural world, the fairytale and the human beautifully mirrors the story itself. There are moments of dread and deceit, shadowy magic and motives – and those of love for the natural world. If you delight in the turning of the seasons and small moments of wonder at plants and weather and creatures, then there is much to revel in here.
The story is loosely based on The Brown Girl – an old ballad. It has that out-of-time quality which belongs to the best folk songs and stories. And like many such ballads, it features love and death and the supernatural. They rarely end well.
For a fiercely sung version of the song, try this:
I’d highly recommend A Pocketful of Crows for teens and older readers who relish ill-fated love, vengeance and enchantments. If they also enjoy well-crafted writing with an undercurrent of mythology, then so much the better. It would not look out of place next to some Frances Hardinge, Neil Gaiman or Margo Lanagan.
(You can try a taster on the Gollancz website.)
A Writers View
Here are some aspects to admire
- using a Child Ballad (No. 295) as a source – no end of material there
- folklore quotations at the start of sections – which bear on what follows
- precise portrayals of the natural world
- the physical world being imbued with magic
- largely simple language, yet used like poetry – or lyrics
- the almanac structure of May Eve to May Eve
- circularity and completion in the narrative
I hope to learn from these – to understand how to bring in my enthusiasms to deepen a story – and how to use structure lightly. There is a mass of wondrous material in the folklore of the British Isles, which I love and want to share. As for the natural world, it is full of everyday marvels. It’s the interlacing of all the above into a wreath of words that I hope to emulate. I look forward to Joanne Harris’s next journey into the worlds of Folklore and Fairytale.