We know Laura as a visitor to this blog. She once won a comment contest by writing “Ugh.” I’m so glad that didn’t start a trend.
Where the Music Ends (available on amazon.com, $5.99) is her first published novella. I read it in a sitting yesterday, 99 pages. I enjoyed it, and I won’t easily forget it; but to review it analytically–well, that won’t be easy.
That’s because it’s a kind of fairy tale, or myth. As such, it leaves many things unexplained. It’s as if a painter tried to portray a landscape in as few brush-strokes as possible.
So we have a valley, with seven villages in it, surrounded by a powerful spell laid down by an evil witch, and no one can get in or out. Worse, the witch periodically creates some kind of “music”–it is not described–that summons children out of their homes by night: some of them never to return at all, and others spiritually maimed. We’re not told why the witch does this, or what she does with the children that she keeps. We can only wonder.
Twins Alice and Joseph are called out by the music. Alice is able to resist the witch’s power, but she can’t save Joseph. She meets another boy named Gilbert who has also resisted, although wounded by the attack of a probably magical wolf. As they try to get back home, and get a doctor for Gilbert, they discover that the witch has cursed them with a very nasty curse: people can’t see them, hear them, or help them. Their only hope is to get out of the valley altogether.
I don’t want to try to retell the story here. Suffice it to say that, to overcome the witch and lift her spells, and to save Joseph if they can, the children must discover and then speak the “free words,” whatever they turn out to be; and it seems that what will also be required are “a sword, a word, and blood.” And this means sacrifice.
I can’t decide whether this story is just right as it is, or whether many more details should have been provided. Start doing that, though, and the next thing you know, your novella is a bust and you find yourself writing a novel. As a fantasy writer–who writes novels, not novellas–I do believe in allowing much scope to the reader’s imagination. It’s often more effective than anything I can think of saying about certain people and locations, etc. Should Laura have told us what the witch’s music sounds like? Or would that have risked ruining the story? I don’t know. It’s not my story.
When I was a boy there used to be a program on educational TV, “Japanese Brush Painting.” The artist would demonstrate how to paint a horse, for instance, in just a few simple strokes, achieving not photographic realism, but something of the essence of a rearing horse. It really worked! I didn’t have a brush, but I did try to imitate him with a ball-point pen. I turned out some pretty nice pictures of horses.
Where the Music Ends reminds me of one of those Japanese brush paintings. There is beauty in it, simplicity–and a lot of somewhat creepy stuff going on in the background. I don’t know whether Laura has ever read Lord Dunsany, but there’s something in here reminiscent of his shorter stories of supernatural encounters.
All of which means that I enjoyed the novella and can recommend it to you.
Just don’t expect a lot of explanation.