Call of the Wraith
Call of the Wraith
“If you’re feeling better, my lord,” he continued, “perhaps now we could appeal for your help.”
My help? I could barely stand unaided. What could they possibly need from me?
“I was wondering if you’d be willing to speak for us,” the farmer said. “Because of your standing.”
“What standing,” I said.
“I mean to speak of your lordship, my lord.”
I frowned. Robert had been using that honorific from the beginning. I’d assumed he’d meant it as a general mark of respect to an unknown guest. “Why would you think I’m a lord?”
“Aren’t you?” he said, surprised. “I mean…your clothes.”
I looked down at the simple peasant wool I was wearing.
“Not those, my lord,” Robert said. “We gave you those. I meant the clothes we found you in. And the money.”
“I have money?”
“In your coin purse. It’s all there, I promise. We haven’t touched a farthing.”
I just stared at him.
“Do you not remember that? he said.
I shook my head.
He and Wise exchanged a glance. “What do you remember?”
I tried to recall something – anything – that had happened before today. The room begins to spin.
“Could you tell us your name?” Robert said.
Robert’s body seemed…strange. It stretched and bent, like he was made of caramel.
I’m dreaming, I thought. I’m still dreaming.
I shut my eyes, and the world stopped whirling around me. But I was still in that terrible nightmare. I had to be. Because I remembered nothing. Nothing at all.
“Who am I?” I whispered.
When our protagonist awakes from a terrifying dream, he finds himself in a warm bed in a snug, wee cob house on a farm in Devonshire…with absolutely no recollection of how he has come to be there. In fact, as he struggles to recall the events that have led him to this place, he makes another startling realization: he cannot remember anything at all about himself! While he remembers certain somewhat random facts (the name of the current King of England; the recipe for gunpowder), he has no idea who he is or where he has come from. The farmer who has tended him explains that they found him on the beach after a terrible storm, and that they thus assumed that he had been shipwrecked. In the hopes that someone in town, or a local Baronet named Sir Edmund Darcy, might recognize him and help him figure out where he belongs, he sets out for the town of Seaton. And it is while he is en route that he is miraculously reunited with his friends, Sally and Tom, who have been scouring the countryside trying to find him. Since he still remembers nothing, his two companions fill him in on all the details of his life.
But by this time, Christopher has also become aware of sinister happenings in this corner of England. Children have been disappearing without a trace, and the villagers are afraid that it is the work of the evil White Lady, a figure from local folklore who steals children and feeds on their souls. Then Sybil O’Malley, a woman who some call a witch and others say is just one of the cunning folk, tells Christopher that he is the one who must find the lost children, that only he can find them and only then will his memories return. So once again, Christopher, Tom and Sally find themselves in the midst of a seemingly impossible quest. How can they hope to combat this otherworldly foe, Christopher wonders? But when they make their way to the home of Baronet Darcy, they begin to discover clues that suggest that the legends of the White Lady may have provided a convenient smokescreen to hide more nefarious dealings.
While “The Blackthorn Key” series shows no signs of declining, this latest volume takes a slightly different tack than its predecessors. Unlike the previous books, there are no puzzles to be solved in order to get to the bottom of this mystery. Also, Christopher’s amnesia for most of Call of the Wraith gives the author an opportunity to approach this story differently and to leave some of the plot threads that had been developing to be revisited or picked up again later. This works well as a way of creating freshness without sacrificing most of the aspects of the story that readers have come to love: the briskly-paced and deftly-woven plot, the thoroughly endearing characters and their relationships, the well-crafted mystery, and (of course!) the explosions! While readers may miss the puzzle-solving element, they will be no less hooked by this tale as Christopher tries to determine what has happened to him, how he can regain his lost memory and how all of this may (or may not) be connected with the lost children.
Sands continues to demonstrate a true mastery of this genre, and as both historical fiction and mysteries, “The Blackthorn Key” series shines. In Call of the Wraith, Sands again weaves a wealth of information about the events of that time period into his intricately-plotted tale, this time focusing on the witch trials and the resulting hysteria around women accused of witchcraft. And then…there are also pirates. The author skillfully incorporates these elements along with the legends and folk tales of the region into the narrative. The mystery, itself, is sophisticated in its execution and satisfying in its resolution. And, as always, the characters remain the most outstanding feature of Call of the Wraith. The deep and lasting friendship between Christopher and Tom is on full display here, from Tom’s determination to scour the entire coast of England to find Christopher after the shipwreck, to the moments before they expect to make their last stand together against a swarm of bloodthirsty Barbary pirates. Their bond is profound and heartwarming, a highlight of this book and the series as a whole. And, as we have come to expect, the secondary characters are almost equally engaging (including the little girl who attaches herself firmly to Tom). Readers who are just discovering “The Blackthorn Key” series will no doubt feel compelled to go back and savour the earlier entries while returning readers will be reminded of why they can’t wait for each new book.
Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia.