Review: Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Review: Drowned Country by Emily TeshDrowned Country (The Greenhollow Duology, #2) by Emily Tesh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, M/M romance, mythology
Series: Greenhollow Duology #2
Pages: 160
Published by Tordotcom on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Drowned Country is the the stunning sequel to Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh's lush, folkloric debut. This second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known.
Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea―a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.

My Review:

This is a story about the magic that lingers in the hidden corners, in the dark and secret places of this world. It’s also about the magic that lives in the deepest reaches of the heart – whether that heart is more-or-less human – or so very definitely not.

When I finished Silver in the Wood last year, I thought that it was utterly lovely. Also that while it was complete in itself, I really wanted there to be just a bit more. Drowned Country is that bit more, and it is every bit as lovely as its predecessor.

But it is also a very different story. And probably doesn’t stand well on its own. Howsomever, even combined the Greenhollow Duology is short enough to be just an afternoon’s jaunt to a world that both is, and is not, our own. (The duology is even short enough that the listening time for the combined audiobook is just under 6 hours!)

When Silver in the Wood opened, Henry Silver was a young scholar, determined to find the truths behind the old myths and legends of not just the Greenhollow, but of all the legendary, magical and mythological creatures that still haunt the hidden places. He doesn’t want to believe that they are all merely the dangerous monsters that his mother has made a living out of hunting down and destroying.

When the Drowned Country opens, it opens in the aftermath of the events of Silver in the Wood. Two years after Henry traded places with Tobias Finch, the former “caretaker” of Greenhollow, Henry himself is now the Wild Man of the woods and Tobias is now Henry’s rather formidable mother’s assistant.

But Tobias had few difficulties with his centuries of solitude as the Green Man, while Henry is more than a bit lost in his new role. Or he just plain misses his friend and lover, Tobias Finch.

So when Henry’s mother arrives at what has increasingly become the ruin of his house, Henry is both appalled and energized. He may not want to deal with his mother, but he needs to put himself back out into the world – and he needs to beg forgiveness of the lover he lied to and lost.

Henry also hopes that his mother has finally recognized his skills and his value to her work. After all, he is both a published folklorist and a powerful nature avatar. But Adele Silver does not think that much of her son. She just wants to use him as bait for a vampire with a predilection towards handsome young men.

What Henry finds is a woman who might be the sister of his heart, if he can just manage to save her from the fairy who plans to install her as the queen of an ancient and dead realm. He can manage to save the girl, assist his mother, and gain his lover’s forgiveness. In order to do so he’ll have to fully embrace the role that he stumbled into with little thought for the future.

The magic he has at his fingertips might be just enough to save everyone else if he is willing to fully inhabit a role that fits him nearly as badly as the too-large coat that Tobias left behind.

But there is still magic in the world, and it might be just enough to save them all.

Escape Rating A: Silver in the Wood linked back to a lot of different stories, particularly those that revolve around nature spirits like the Green Man – meaning characters like Tom Bombadill and Tam Lin. It also nicely – or rather evilly – ropes in all those stories about evil spirits that never die without great sacrifice.

The story in Drowned Country feels more like it hearkens back to Rip Van Winkle and all of those stories about the magic of fairy rings, that they are gateways between our world and the land of the fae, and that those who wander between can disappear for centuries only to return after all their loved ones are long dead but believing that they’ve only been away a short time.

At the same time this story has a feeling of “the magic goes away” in that the Greenhollow is smaller than it once was, that its magic doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, and that the magic places in the worlds are dying.

Plus there’s that connection to the supernatural stories that became so popular in the late 19th century – the time period when this slightly alternate history feels like it belongs. The vampire that Adele Silver plans to lure out of his lair is quite real. Also quite dead and not merely undead.

And overtop of all of this is a combination of a quest and a romance. Henry isn’t sure whether he really plans to rescue the girl or he really hopes to follow her into Fairyland. She reminds him of himself, with that same sense of undying and something unthinking curiosity. But Henry also wants to win Tobias back for however long he can keep him. As an avatar of the wood, Henry will live for centuries, but Tobias is now mortal.

The only problem is that he has to first get Tobias to talk to him, and second to forgive him. Both are easier said than done, with all of the puns implied.

At the end, I was blown away. I expected the ending of Silver in the Wood, the whole story was leading straight towards it. I was NOT expecting the end of Drowned Country. It was beautiful, and breathtaking, and a complete surprise. It was also a perfect and fitting ending to the entire story..

Review: Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Review: Silver in the Wood by Emily TeshSilver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, M/M romance, mythology
Series: Greenhollow Duology #1
Pages: 112
Published by on June 18, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.

My Review:

The title is a pun. I didn’t figure that out until near the end – but it should have been obvious. I was just too caught up in the story to notice.

It is also a charming, and queer, exploration of the “Green Man” myth/legend and takes place at a period when the image – and the mythology behind it – had a bit of a revival.

Like life in the forest of Green Hollow – or Greenhallow – where Henry Silver and Tobias Finch meet each other in the woods, this is a story that moves both quick and slow, following the rhythms of nature and the life of trees – invaded and surrounded by the world of man.

The story takes place in a slightly alternate 19th century – or at least that’s what it feels like. But it has its roots set deep in the past of its place – and deep in the past of Tobias Finch, the keeper and manager of Greenhallow – as he has been for the past four centuries – since his life was tied to the wood.

I say alternate because the world that Tobias explores when he leaves the wood is in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, while at the same time there are plenty of places and pockets of England where the Green Man and other legends even darker are still alive and well and making mischief – and where people still believe in them.

But Tobias doesn’t know that in the beginning. All he knows is that Henry Silver, the new owner of the nearby manor, has invaded his woods looking for myths and legends – and possibly a warm and willing bedmate for the night.

Tobias doesn’t figure out that last bit until much, much later. It’s been a long time since anyone has asked – or offered – or flirted.

They become friends – always with a hint of more. But Tobias is afraid to get too close, not just because he’s one of those myths that Henry has been so disingenuously looking for. Tobias guards Greenhallow against something far older and far more malevolent than even Henry with his love of old legends could possibly imagine.

Tobias knows it’s going to come for Henry – because Tobias’ old frenemy Fabian Rafela always takes away what Tobias wants to protect.

And just when you think the story is over – then it gets really, really fascinating. And it’s marvelous.

Escape Rating A-: This is a story that is beautiful, and it’s short, and if you want to fall into an atmosphere of myth and legend it’s just perfect. I wish there’d been a bit more but what there is is complete and it’s captivating.

The Green Man is a nature myth – and Tobias surrounds himself with avatars of nature. His best friends – before Henry – are a protective dryad and a self-centered cat. Tobias seems stuck in a role of service as he serves the wood and he certainly serves the cat. (I liked Pearl a lot – she humanizes Tobias and connects him to time in a way that nothing else does – and she’s very cat.)

For a rather slight book it echoed a lot of other books for me. Henry’s pursuit of old legends before they die was a bit like the hero of My Fake Rake – and that’s quite a leap. At the same time, Tobias reminds me of both Tam Lin and Tom Bombadil, who are both nature spirits. There’s a Green Man character in The God of the Hive, one of the books in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. The Green Man gets around – in spite of being tied to the woods – and that series also takes place during his revival.

The link back to Tobias’ past adds a bit of shivering chill to the story, while at the same time Henry’s fate reminded me of the fate of Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, tied to a legend – and immortal. I realize that is a bit far out there, but it worked for me.

The early parts of this story move deliberately slowly as they follow Tobias’ perception of time as he is tied to the wood. In the second part of the story time speeds up as Tobias has left the wood and is now part of the workaday world outside it. A world that, during the Industrial Revolution, began to speed up in every way, and the story reflects that well.

At the end, things come full circle. The darkness at the heart of the forest has been vanquished and both Tobias and Henry are free to be who and what they are meant to be – and with each other.