Author: Linda Davies
While out riding, schoolgirl Merry Owen finds a chest containing an ancient Welsh text that leads her into a past filled with treasure, secrets and danger. But it’s her skill with the Longbow, an old family tradition, that will save her future.
What most attracted me to the Longbow Girl was the setting. Fans of fantasy/historical fantasy will be well aware of some of the genres main influences; Nordic, Greek and Roman mythologies are so often used and deeply ingrained in the genre most fans will know the ancient gods, even if they’ve never picked up a history book in their life. So I was intrigued that the Longbow Girl was set in Wales, and flirting outrageously with the line between fiction and historical fiction.
In this at least, I was not let down. You can read in the acknowledgements that Linda Davies is very personally familiar with the countryside and the activities Merry, our protagonist, revels in, riding her horse across the hills and practising at her Longbow with her father. But this much is obvious anyway, as Linda’s descriptions of the countryside and the feeling of that relaxed exhilaration you find in nature leap off the page and infect the reader.
In that way it reminds me strongly of another fiction, The Green Rider series by Kristen Britain, both books put a strong emphasis on expressing the exhilaration of the wind in your hair, and enjoying something as simple as walking in the hills, which I quite liked.
However, Longbow Girl raises itself well above the Green Rider, for starters the plot a thousand times better, well paced and enjoyable. Our protagonist Merry is sent back in time to 16th century Wales, Davies makes the most of this, the back in time portions of the book are equal parts epic, and grounded in what (from an outsiders perspective) looks like a soul-crushing amount of research. There are two segments that stick in my mind that I thought were incredibly well written and intriguing, a bit near the end that I won’t spoil, and truly scary bit at the start where Merry wakes up, aware that she went to bed with an empty house, but not so sure that it is anymore.
That’s not to say the book is perfect, I enjoyed the heart of the filler segments and I did enjoy the plot while it was happening, however, this is one of those books where you’re more taken for a ride than are actually invited to understand how to drive, as it were. A lot of things happen because they need to happen, not because it makes sense that they happen. To give an example, the first time Merry goes back in time she sees her ancestor being imprisoned and she decides to go rescue him with the throwaway explanation of ‘What could happen to my family in the future?’ Then she gets into the castle, sets off a chain of events that will come back to haunt her and leaves without achieving her goal. The event chain she sets off becomes very dramatic and exciting later, but at the time I was just sat there thinking ‘Why did we end up here?’ Perhaps this is the problem with time travel, everyone understands it differently because from my perspective I would have simply gotten involved with everything as little as possible for fear of changing something, I just didn’t get what she was doing and why – something that happened more than once.
The writing style, as I’ve mentioned above was great at expressing the feeling of freedom and describing the landscape, and was pretty good in some of the more high-pressure scenes. But when neither of the above criteria is met… well, it doesn’t fall apart but if it was the standard of writing for the rest of the book this review would certainly not have been as complimentary. One of my problems was, it seems the author is terrified the reader get bored and wonder off if we aren’t assured that very exciting things are happening. I think about ten chapters end with the sentiment of ‘And Merry was happy for it had been a good day – If only she knew what was in store!’ It’s not piquing my interest, perhaps try a different method, like making something fun happen.
The relationships between the characters are also a bit strange in that they were kind of badly defined, Merry’s best friend was a nice addition plot wise, but in their actual interactions I didn’t get the sense she liked him very much, and at a point near the end we’re supposed to feel a surge of positive emotion towards a little girl we’ve seen for about five pages. The book itself seems more concerned with flying free through forest path and over hill, so I don’t see why I should care about the character segments when the author clearly doesn’t.
The Longbow Girl is a book of great strength’s; the plot is very enjoyable if you’re the kind of person who can ignore the slew of issues that avalanche in with time travel. The book loses some of its charm if you’re a very character-centric reader, but saying that I’m a very character-centric reader and I still enjoyed it, even though I won’t be reading it again. There’s a lot to be said for a good plot spiced with history and originality.