Juliet McKenna is an author I’d been meaning to read forever. When good bookfriends expressed quiet but fervent enthusiasm for The Green Man’s Heir, I decided it was time to take the plunge. Today I’m here to be your good bookfriend and express my own quiet but fervent enthusiasm for this contemporary folkloric fantasy series. You should take the plunge, the water is fine if full of terrifying naiads and nixes.
A folkloric feast
Britain is rich in folklore, from famous legends to local haunts. Juliet McKenna asserts that there’s no smoke without a fire: the series is set in a contemporary England where the supernatural lives side by side with their clueless mundane neighbours. McKenna’s countryside shimmers with the promise of beings you can’t see, sending shivers down your spine as you walk down darkling lanes.
The Green Man’s Heir begins with a murderous wose in the woods; The Green Man’s Foe features a nix with dark ambitions beyond its immediate watershed. To my complete delight, dragons are cast on the model of the Lambton Worm, and historic sorcerers from Dee to Crowley have legacies that will probably need to be unpicked. Dryads, naiads and swan maidens can all pass as human, but there’s no mistaking a hob for anything but trouble (try giving it a beer; don’t get in its debt). McKenna takes inspiration from around the country and adds it to her heady brew.
A down to earth hero
Enter Daniel Mackmain: not your average carpenter – and not just because of his rugged good looks and skill with an adze. Our Dan is the son of a dryad, an immortal tree spirit who settled down with his entirely human Dad on a nature reserve to look after the woods. He’s not sure what that makes him – other than a talented woodworker – but it has brought him to the attention of the Green Man. The legend seems to consider Dan his fixer, expecting him to intervene when things get out of whack. The Green Man may mean well, but he’s a terrible communicator – figuring out the problem can be as much of a challenge as solving it. And the Green Man may have expectations, but Dan needs to fit them in around his day job – and little constraints like the law, and lack of funding.
Because mostly, Dan’s a carpenter in search of his next job. He worries about whether he has any clean undies and struggles with rent and craft fair economics. He investigates murders and haunts, but he spends just as much time fretting: should he buy a teapot; did he get enough biscuits for the builders; is this relationship too new to fart in front of her? It’s always too new. He’s not commitment-averse, honest, he’s just never convinced his lover can handle meeting his Mum – and he’s terrified of an ex telling the world what he is.
Sure, he can see things that would turn your hair white, but Dan? Dan’s just a 21st century bloke with rough edges. While it took me a while to warm up to him, his good heart and willingness to put himself in harm’s way to protect others are endearing traits – and I rather enjoy rolling my eyes affectionately at his foibles.
Otherworld, other rules
While I like Dan for being so human, I’ve always been firmly of the opinion that if you’re going to write the demimonde, you better understand how bloody terrifying it is. Forget flower fairies and kindly elf queens – I expect magical beings who either forget how fragile humans are or who actively consider them prey. Folklore may be magical, but it’s rarely comforting. Juliet McKenna grasps this perfectly: her supernatural beings are never safe, and they’re best left well alone unless you understand its rules of engagement.
That’s assuming they aren’t actively hunting you, of course. Not all myths are happy to stay home on a Saturday night and watch Strictly.
Folklore is rooted in the countryside, and McKenna sets her sights firmly on its market towns, farms and crumbling estates. It may be magical, but it isn’t idealised: the narratives engage with the real-world economic and social challenges faced by rural communities. The result gives the world heft, grounding the fanciful stories being told within it.
A series of stand-alones
While you definitely want to read the series in order, the metaplot is so light touch it might be my imagination (and crucially: no cliffhangers). Each book adds new recurring characters and new locations, but tells a complete story (or couple of stories, in the case of book one). The result is a series you can dip in and out of when you’re in the mood for a mysterious thriller with a supernatural edge.
I haven’t yet reviewed The Green Man’s Silence, but it was fab! Book four, The Green Man’s Challenge, is due to be released in September 2021.
Tempted? Good news – Wizard’s Tower Press are offering ebook editions of the first three titles at a reduced price across Kindle, Nook, and Kobo until the end of May.