I'm not sure you can cram much more into a novel. In the real world there is a whodunnit element mingled with escape tunnels for Jews hiding from the Nazis. And then there is the parallel world of the Tiel, a declining world of elf-like creatures with High Councils and swords who speak in a "strange combination of German, Latin and Celtic".
After inheriting a house in rural Bavaria, Herta, a down-to-earth Canadian, discovers she has also inherited the position of Der Reizen, a sort of gatekeeper between this world and the world of the Tiel. The locals seem to fear her or hate her and a very good-looking lad wants her as his soul-mate. She is chased by killers and becomes a suspect in a suspicious killing. Then, with the help of the local priest and the policewoman sent to investigate her, she discovers what it's all about.
Herta is a fantastic heroine who literally laughs in the face of danger. Her life in Canada has given her many skills (for example, a self-hypnosis tape has given her the ability to block out mind control, she carries WD-40 in her 'survival kit' (!), ) but her most endearing quality is her stubbornness and her ability to get angry very quickly.
There is a lot of everyday practicality about the book. After inheriting the house, Herta starts cleaning and arranging for a bank account and electricity and internet. These mundane things add verisimilitude and enable us to suspend disbelief when weird things begin to happen.
There is so much going on in this book that I have to admit to getting a little confused from time to time. But the action is unrelenting and what might otherwise be a kaleidoscopic plot is unified and carried by the wonderful heroine.
Some great moments:
- "It was either seem rude and ignore him or be rude and belt him." (Ch 1)
- "This man was chocolate on two legs," (Ch 4)
- “My thoughts were elsewhere.” He smiled. “But now that I’ve seen you, they will, I think, remain here. One so lovely should not be left alone.” (Ch 4)
- "I find I must live in the filthiest hut in Christendom, I’m treated like something that crawled out of the sewers and to top matters off, I’m expected to be a pimp for vampires.” (Ch 6)
- "She struggled out of the bed, relieved and oddly dismayed to see she was still dressed." (Ch 9)
- “Old hatreds don’t die. People do.” (Ch 10)
- "Had she chosen correctly? Or had her big mouth just gotten both of them killed?" (Ch 22)
- "Herta’s questions had questions but she asked only one." (Ch 23)
- "This is supposed to be where the bad guy shows up and tells me his life story, right?" (Ch 28)
- "This must be what it’s like to run into a beehive, she thought. Death by a thousand stings. She’d never been stung before, so she wasn’t sure." (Ch 28)
- "The flapping fabric of her jeans rubbed against the bandages and the wounds beneath. As she carefully put one foot in front of the other, she deliberately focused on all the things that had happened. It helped to keep her anger alive and her thoughts away from self-pity and pain." (Ch 30)
A classic fantasy with portals between this world and another. June 2021