Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Stormy Seas: Forbidden by Eve Bunting

Get you to bed, now." My uncle turned away from me.

There was to be no good-night embrace as there had always been from my mother, no kiss on the cheek as there had always been from my father. These were their manners and I was not to question.

I started up the stairs. But I had forgotten my cloak that I had draped on the chair when I first entered Raven's Roost. I went down, quietly, to retrieve them.

My uncle was speaking. "Will she be strong enough, Minnie?" he asked. "In body, yes. In her head, I do not know," my aunt answered.

I clutched the banister, afraid to move. Then my aunt said, "Archie sent a message. There's a goodly one on its way. He says it'll be here tomorrow night. Praise that it's not tonight, and her just arrived. We'll have time to make arrangements before it gets here."

"Aye," my uncle agreed. "She's young and strong. She'll be choice."

Nothing feels right about the place by the sea to sixteen-year-old Josie, orphaned by her parents' sudden deaths, and sent from her comfortable home in Glasgow to live until she is eighteen with an uncle and aunt she's never known. The dank, moldering house on the foggy, stormy northwest coast of Scotland is dark and cold, and so are her relatives. Auntie whispers mysteriously to her huge hound, Lamb, and when Josie comes downstairs during the night, Lamb attacks her ankle savagely. Josie can only guess that the whispers were orders to Lamb to keep her in her room until morning. There is something sinister in the conversation she overheard, but when she wakes, her aunt and uncle are gone.

Josie goes outside, limping on her festering foot, and meets up with a strange young man, Eli Stuart, who gives her his coat, saying that he does not feel cold, and who offers his mother's medicinal skills for her wounds. Mrs. Stuart is a kind and skillful herbalist, and after blackberry scones and a cup of tea with the motherly woman and her handsome son, Josie feels better about Raven's Roost. She also feels inexplicably drawn to Eli. But when she ventures to town to replace the stocking Lamb ripped, the storekeeper warns her to stay away from Eli Stuart, saying that everyone believes he is "forbidden."

All of it seems almost beyond belief to Josie. But as her aunt and uncle return, they seem to be preparing for some awaited event. They give Josie men's trousers and boots, and a thick knitted sweater that reaches her knees, with SEA URCHIN stamped on the front, and tell her to wait while they head down to the stormy beach. Other people are gathering and strangely exuberant in the face of the roaring storm coming off the sea, and Josie stealthily creeps down the path to the beach and conceals herself to watch the preparations below.

I held on to the railing so that I would not be hurled away. I saw people, forty or more, massed on the strip of shingle. Far out at sea, the lights of a ship vanished, reappeared, as if the sea sucked the vessel down and then threw it up again. On the cliff's edge, further along the Point, I became aware of another light, bright and friendly, swaying along the edge of the bluff. There was new cheering now on the beach.

I could no longer deceive myself. They were happy. They had hoped the ship would wreck, and now their hopes were realized. They were not there to save, but to pillage.

As she watches the people on the beach strip drowned passengers of clothes and valuables, Josie realizes that their ship was drawn into the rocky reef by the light on shore, thinking it led to a safe harbor, and her uncle and aunt are clearly planning to make her part of their crime. She hastily returns to the house to prepare to flee, to somehow escape those horrors she has seen. Then she hears a voice, calling her name.

A surge of joy came with the sight of him that made me forget my despair. "Oh, Eli, you came for me. I got away. I saw ..."

"You cannot go yet." he said. "When you see the end, you will understand."

Not only is Eve Bunting the author of charming children's picture books, but also an award-winning master of foreboding settings and baleful characters, and in her latest gothic novel, Forbidden (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2015), there is one more element in store for her young heroine, a glimpse of the supernatural that overwhelms her senses when she realizes that her mysterious Eli is more than mere mortal. With undertones of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, this story will please devotees of the nineteenth century gothic tale, and young adult readers with a taste for romance and terror, will relish each eerie detail as it unfolds. This is a book worth saving to savor on a dark and stormy night.

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