Hy Brazil is an absorbing and compelling book written in the tradition of historical fantasy, which is an intriguing genre. The narrative is set in Elizabethan England, beginning in the year 1591, but the fantastic elements, which encompass two thirds of the novel, take place in a fabled realm inhabited by the elven folk, the phantom island of Hy Brazil supposedly in the Atlantic somewhere west of Ireland and marked on several maps of the time. Legends describe this Celtic Otherworld as cloaked in mist except for one day every seven years when it becomes visible. Always, however, it is supposed to be unreachable.
The book is written in the first person by Edward Harry, and everything is perceived from his viewpoint. This is clearly stated in the Foreword which declares ‘I myself, Edward Harry, am the only begetter and so I shall be the first word in all the telling.’ The Prologue continues this assertion with the opening line ‘I was born I know not when; where and from what parents no soul has ever thought fit to inform me.’ The generalised name of ‘Boy’ soon irritates the child who insists of being called by the names of two great kings. This attitude is a key to Edward’s character as he reveals himself to be impetuous, impulsive, arrogant, a quick-witted character with a love of adventure, ambitious and self-seeking to the hilt as he ‘reached out for glory and the company of my betters.’ Edward Harry has a great many faults which frequently land him in trouble, but he is also honourable and principled, compassionate, loyal, and very likeable.
Early in the book, Edward becomes Secretary to Edmund Spenser, the poet, and I found this a fascinating section. The background is the imposition of rule by the English upon Ireland and the hardship and suffering this caused. The name of Spenser in Ireland is still one to be spoken with a curse. Edward Harry himself is proud of being English. His opinion on the situation is ‘That they (the Irish) had lost all their possessions no doubt followed because they were unfit to hold them.’ Spenser himself is presented as something of an enigma for ‘he seemed to be two men; the one quite willing to root out all Irishmen so that the other, the poet, could enjoy their countryside in peace.’
A subtle touch introduces the fantastic elements of Hy Brazil when Edward and his friend Calvagh are blown off course while at sea in a small boat and find themselves landing on the shores of the fabulous island, not knowing what adventures will befall them. ‘We were drawn,’ says Edward, ‘wherever the green line led, to the rainbow’s end, to the rim of the world, or perhaps to Hell.’ The situation, in fact, does develop into something resembling Hell for Hy Brazil is not a pretty, dream-like island with elves and fairies and sweet-talking animals but a place of brutality, violence and ongoing savagery and conflict.
Edward’s adventures are riveting and I, for one, relished the strangeness, the grotesques, and monstrosities and the ‘motley assemblage of oddities’ that creep into the novel under Gerald Killingworth’s brilliantly skilful and imaginative pen.
This is most definitely a book that once started is not to be put down. Hy Brazil is intended to be the first of a trilogy and I hope it will be. It is too good not to be continued. Every reader will want to know what happens next.
For further information and purchase of copies contact Gerald Killingworth at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mandy Pannett 18th October 2022