CALEDONIA

PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall

BOOK REVIEW: CALEDONIA / AUTHOR: AMY HOFF / PUBLISHER: CROOKED CAT / RELASE DATE: OUT NOW

When Inspector Leah Bishop joins the Glasgow branch of Interpol after her husband leaves her, she soon realises she’s taken on more than she bargained for. The world of folklore she has studied all her life turns out to be very real, and the fae who run the supernatural police force need her help to catch their first ever serial killer.

Caledonia is the novel that was the basis for the web series of the same name. No matter what an adaptation’s budget, fantasy is always more spectacular in your head, and in literature form Amy Hoff’s vision for her supernatural underworld is revealed in its original undiluted glory. Through Leah and her selkie partner Dorian Grey investigating the murders, the magical otherworld existing in the overcast shadows of Scotland’s largest city is gradually exposed, with additional flavour conferred by some delightfully incongruous side cases such as a drunken kelpie creating chaos in the Clyde or a tea-guzzling gorilla poltergeist haunting the Panopticon theatre.

A folklorist who studies and collects legends, Hoff’s knowledge of the supernatural is encyclopaedic, and as well as presenting interpretations of myths in their original forms, she takes the opportunity to rewrite and expand some tales, such as the giant Benandonner looking to remove the stigma from his infamous act of cowardice by challenging (and actually defeating) the legendary hero Cúchulainn. Her wonderfully poetic turns of phrase (“his eyes dead blue flames with the souls of the ocean’s drowned behind them”) match the romantic tragedy of the story, with the most detail being bestowed on the sorrow of the selkies. Seal-men called from the ocean by the broken-hearted, selkies are compelled to forever love that one person utterly and unconditionally, even after their mortal lover dies or simply moves on, leaving them with passion denied reciprocation and biologically incapable of loving anyone ever again.

The most intriguing idea presented is that of the power of stories, specifically the “tales forged in pain and blood, those believed with the heart and soul.” The suggestion is that such is the untapped potential of the human imagination, perhaps the tales being told of the fae, of their preternatural abilities and lifespans of eternity, are precisely what created these fierce and beautiful creatures and grants them such supernatural might. As Dorian observes, “all monsters had to come from somewhere.” This is precisely what makes Leah, a mere human amongst otherworldly immortals who have powers ranging from average to apocalyptic, such an asset to the team. She is not constricted by the magic that binds the fae into compulsion and can break free of enchantments by virtue of the inherent adaptability of human nature. Additionally, the fae are creatures of tradition, living by the same rules and conventions for hundreds – often thousands – of years, and as a result sometimes overlook details and actions simply because they are outwith such accepted ways of behaving, leaving Leah as the only one with the mindset to even notice them, let alone consider them viable possibilities. She may lack any kind of magical might, but in her own way she is stronger than any of them, and it’s through her humanity that the truth is ultimately revealed.
 

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