I saw this book on a display in a Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, Scotland. It looked interesting, but it was large-ish hard cover book, and I didn’t want the extra weight in backpack. The problem was that I discovered this book was not available in the US at the time. So on my last day in town, I went back to the store and thankfully there was a copy left. It was worth the trouble.
Rotherweird is at its core a supernatural mystery. It’s told from two perspectives, the late Renaissance and now in England. The two times periods move back and forth as events in one time are linked to events in the other. Gradually the various threads begin to connect until most of the mystery is solved.
Rotherweird is a remote town in England that’s only really noticeable if you know to look, and has some unusual laws, most prominent of which is “No knowledge or teaching of history before 1800”. So when a new history teacher, Jonah Oblong, is hired from the outside world, he finds himself suddenly having to adjust to a very unusual place and job and people. Not only is he curious about his new hometown, he also finds that the locals are quite eccentric. There’s also the problem of his predecessor who disappeared or was fired for encouraging the study of the town’s pre-1800 history. It turns out that Mr. Flask and his activities are important component for saving one of Rotherweird’s secrets from destruction.
The main problem traces back to Queen Mary wanting to get rid of a group of 12 children who appear to have unusual genius of some sort, but those she orders to get rid of them feel sorry for them, arrange for their safe removal under the supervision of Sir Henry. They fall under the influence of Mr. Geryon Wynter which eventually results in the founding of Rotherweird and its laws which are designed to keep both the secrets of the Eleusians (the eventual name for the group of special children) and Mr. Wynter’s discovery of the unusual properties of the Lost Acres which somehow involve weasel-men and spider-ladies. Exactly what happened in this time is a mystery that needs to be solved in the present, and since 16th century history is largely lost…
Mystery 2 in the present involves the mysterious Sir Veronal Slickstone who hires a wife and child, takes over the old Manor, for potentially sinister purposes. Then there’s the strange scientists at the school, the PE teacher who sometimes is really good at Latin but usually a stereotypical dumb but natured jock, the town gardener who has a mysterious talent for creating unique plants, Ferenson who somehow knows things about town without being a resident, some especially talented countrysiders (those who interact with the town but live just outside it), and the list of interesting characters goes on. Local events are just as unusual, and many appear to have some connection to Rotherweird’s past, but no one really knows.
This is a really complex world and, although it was a little slow to start and there were enough characters that if someone doesn‘t show up for a while it’s easy to forget who they were or why they matter, it really draws you in. There’s a good balance between the audience knowing things characters may not but not knowing what they mean and learning as the characters do. The mystery isn’t totally obvious, the characters are interesting and sometimes complex, the supernatural fantastic elements are woven in smoothly, and there’s enough questions left that I’m glad that the sequel Wyntertide is listed in Amazon US (although it’s not due out until May).