This novel is one of Stewart's later ones, published in 1988, and might be called a cottage novel or cozy, but I think with its focus on witches and a woman alone and in danger, it is close enough to a Gothic Novel to end up on the blog. :) I know a lot of my readers do or would like this novel, so I wanted to post a review. My copy is the Fawcett Crest edition, and it's really gorgeous, though the cottage looks huge. ;)
Geillis Ramsey has inherited her witch-like, mysterious older cousin and godmother Geillis Saxon's cottage in the woods. For her, penniless and bereft of father and mother at age 27, the new home is a gift. Having known little happiness in her life, Geillis is elated at her new surroundings.
From the start, Thornyhold is lovely but mysterious. Geillis has left all manner of herbs and other tools of a witch or at least an herbalist, and her cousin young Geillis soon has a dream about flying and being part of a coven. Indeed, the cottage has a long history of its mistresses being white witches. Are the dreams and inklings Geillis has of being a witch or of having power to heal real, and what danger lurks near Thornyhold? Can the housekeeper and neighbor Agnes Trapp and others be trusted? Will Geillis be able to realize the fulfillment of a budding love affair and be happy at last?
Plot: 4/5 [This novel is lovely-- pastoral and bucolic. It's not a fast moving thriller, but it is quite satisfying as it spins out in descriptions of a sad childhood and of daily life as a young woman finds her way.]
Characters: 5/5 [Both Geillises are delightful. I pictured someone like Natalie Portman (brains and a certain fey and tentative quality she has fit to me) as young Geillis, and Helena Bonham Carter with her hair colored red as older Geillis. I also like Geillis' love interest and man of many talents-- Christopher Dryden-- (what a magical name that evokes dryads and all manner of lovely things, don't you think?), and picture him as a younger Robert Redford. A passage that describes him as a "lodestone-- a bright particular star" and as a "homme fatal" is one of the best descriptions of a hero I have seen, and I have read a lot of novels (168-69).]
Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The cozy atmosphere really works in this one, and there is a hint of danger as well. Some Gothic touches are the witchcraft elements, Hodge the black cat, dead pigeons in the house, a crystal ball, visions, Jessamy who is a little off, howling dogs in the night, and an enigmatic housekeeper.]
Literary elements: 5/5 [Yes, this is a smart and even dreamlike novel, well written and evocative of novels many of us probably love starring children and young women in bucolic places.]
Stars: 4+ stars ****+
I recommend this one for all fans of Mary Stewart. If you're a fan of pastoral scenes, cottage cozies, masterful description and mild Gothic elements, you will also love this novel. I found it a nice break from the horror type or spookier novels I have been reading of late.