The Silver Bough, by Lisa Tuttle

Edition: Paperback

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Published: March 2013  (first published in April 2006, Spectra Books)

Where I got it: Waterstones Glasgow

Rating: 5/5


In a hidden orchard a golden apple dangles from a silver bough. 

In Scottish folklore, that apple is the price to get into Elysium.

For Appleton, a small Scottish town, it holds memories of ancient lovers’ rituals too-long forgotten.

Now the town teeters on the edge of decline and the mists are rolling in. 

And in the mist, something is stirring …

The Silver Bough was that pleasant rarity, a book I had never heard of until a random browsing of the SF/F section in the bookstore. The story sounded interesting enough, and by then I was well into my fascination with Jo Fletcher Books’  output thanks to ‘The City’s Son’, ‘Seoul Survivors’ and ‘Gemsigns’. So I took it home – and now having read it, I’m wondering if this publisher can do no wrong. I loved this book.

Everything about the story ticks my boxes. Folklore from my own country? Yep. Intriguing mythology? Absolutely. Chilling undertones to both, well-crafted unfolding of events, gripping and satisfying payoff? Yes, yes and definitely yes. 

Oh, and the fairyland-ish aspects were okay too, I guess. You know, if you’re into all that, I dunno…

The small coastal town of Appleton has been sliding into decline for decades, more or less cut off from the rest of the world in an isolated one of their own. They generally lay the blame for this upon a young woman, their seemingly innocuosly elected ‘Apple Queen’, who disappeared from Appleton in 1950, choosing to abandon her roots instead of staying to fulfill the duty imposed on her by this ‘ritual’ of having her husband chosen by the townsfolk. This ritual is said to ensure the community’s health, happiness and prosperity, and indeed, ever since the day their last Apple Queen disappeared, nothing has gone right for them. Small businesses have been forced to close, tourism has been in a major slump, and the orchard for which the little town was once renowned has wasted away to almost nothing. But it’s not done for quite yet. When a young American woman, the grand-daughter of the young woman whom everyone feels is to blame for this turn of fate, turns up in Appleton, everything changes – beginning with a mysterious earthquake that isolates the town thanks to a landslide on its one major road …

Now, this is not an action-packed fantasy story. Not by any means, really. Does that detract from how easily I fell into it? Heck no. The slow-burn pacing worked perfectly for this story. It switches between several points of view, including those of Ashley, the grand-daughter of the disgraced former Apple Queen; Nell, who owns the land upon which the town’s dwindling orchard still stands; and Kathleen, the manager of the local library and museum who soon discovers that most of the treasures to be found in her adopted haven have been locked away for years. Their stories are interspersed with excerpts from books written about Appleton’s history and Scottish folklore surrounding the place, as well as a few news articles about the town’s decline and clippings from the journal of a very important historical figure …

All of this was endlessly fascinating to me. I love to read about folklore, especially the homegrown kind, and the fact that so much of it involves fairy myths and legends doesn’t hurt at all (faeriephile in the house!). It kept me hooked on the story up to the very last page, and for all of this I gave it a perfect five stars. What I loved most, however, were those chilling undertones I mentioned. In my view, the story would have been incomplete without them, from the fact of the town’s sudden isolation by way of earthquake when Ashley arrives (this happens on a dark and stormy night, which rocked my creepiness-loving socks off) to the implications of the interrupted and abandoned Apple Queen ceremony/ritual. A small community who puts their faith in an old fertility ritual and marries off one of its young women to ensure local prosperity? What isn’t creepy about that, especially in this day and age?

I’m already planning to read more of this author’s work. Lisa Tuttle was an author I’d never heard of before I’d picked this up, but man, I want more of her stuff. From her masterful pacing here, to the simple, elegantly creepy tones of her writing, it was as much how she wrote this as what she wrote about, that kept me hooked on her story. If The Silver Bough is a good example of the rest of her work, then gimme. If what I’ve described here sounds like something you’d be fascinated by, then absolutely pick this one up. I thoroughly recommend it, plain and simple. As for Jo Fletcher Books doing no wrong, yep, they’re definitely still on track to becoming my go-to publisher. Four for four and counting speaks for itself. Nice one.

This book was read as part of the Once Upon A Time VII reading challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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