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* a whispering, murmuring or rustling sound. —Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
* a darkly fantastic story of magic, love, and suffering. —Susurrus by B. Morris Allen
Last week I visited several of the ancient stone circles that dot the Highlands of Scotland. One thing many had in common were special stones representing the pivotal roles of maiden/mother/crone. Ancient people knew—as we sometimes forget—that these roles were the glue that identified and ultimately protected their little communities against a frequently baffling and dangerous world. When we visited the stone circle called Easter Aquhorthies near Inverurie, we saw that one stone had elements of all three aspects: it was triangular (maiden), reddish (mother) and weathered (crone). I couldn’t help thinking of Susurrus, in which narrator Iskra comes to embody all three elements.
In his new novel Susurrus, author B. Morris Allen shows us the path taken by one woman as she moves through these roles in search of the most elusive magic of all—love and peace. When we meet her, Iskra is a tiny child barely scraping out a living with her sick father. When he dies, she sets out on a journey that is to take many lifetimes and change a world. At first, she travels with Neris, an itinerant peddler who becomes her second father. He asks what she wants. Although she can’t pronounce the word sorceress, she knows her goal.
[QUOTE] “I want to learn magic,” she answered. For he was part magician, and Father had told her stories of magic and its uses. “I want to be a soserrus.”
“A susurrus?” he asked, deliberately misunderstanding. “Not a creak? Not a thunder? Not a babble?” [END QUOTE]
But Neris tells her he doesn’t do magic, although he teaches her some sleight-of-hand tricks. Eventually, he brings her to his lover Frando, whose powerful wife Kiya has amassed the local birth magic. Kiya plans to use Iskra to produce babies, and eventually, harvest magic from their birth. Settling reluctantly into the relative safety of Kiya’s palace, Iskra realizes Neris has done his best for her.
[QUOTE]“That home was what you made it, and you made it from love. And in teaching her that lesson, he had taught her to do magic after all.” [END QUOTE]
But when she hears that Neris is near death, a pregnant Iskra forces Nando to buy her freedom and she races to try to save him. She harvests the magic as she gives birth, but it results in tragedy. As she moves through her life, Iskra accumulates different forms of magic in her search for purpose and love. She encompases the maiden looking for lover, the mother renewing life through birth magic, the eternally-young crone. But the magic inevitably turns on her, even as it builds her power. Each place Iskra goes has a different magical lesson to teach her, but each is a reminder that she doesn’t yet know what she really needs.
I love a character-driven tale, and Iskra’s life is just that. The world-building is breathtaking, the writing is sparely elegant, and the pace has the deliberate march of an epic. But this is a dark epic, a story of lost love and opportunity for happiness, a Gulliver forever looking for a way home. Iskra’s life journey moves onto an epic stage, but at the end she isn’t the Goddess or even the Empress. She’s the embodiment of the maiden, the mother, the crone. She’s a woman. And her story is magic.