You may have gathered from my blog that if a book has a folklore inspired setting, I’m going to be piqued, if it also has connotations of fae, as in dark fae like The Call by Paedar O Guillin then even more so, throw in historical fiction and I’m chomping at the bit.
A Hunter’s Moon has all this and more, a heady early 1700s retelling of Beowulf evoking the Scottish myth of Cu Sith or demonic-faery dog? Perfect as we descend into the dark part of the year.
Callum’s father lost him in a game of cards to landowner and former soldier for hire Fraser McCloud and has no hope of earning his freedom. When Colonel Chivers comes from afar calling for McCloud to rid his lands of a wolf, McCloud seizes upon the promise of a fortune, but Callum wonders why nobody local would take such a handsome prize.
It soon becomes clear that there is something supernatural about this wolf, with whispers of Cu Sith on local’s lips and revenge of the Walkers in the Woods for deforestation, this creature leaves no bodies to inspect and each night creeps closer and closer to the heart of the problem.
I have a proposition… It’s a matter that requires a man with certain skillsColonel Chivers to Fraser McCloud
The novel has the feels of a Viking Saga transported to the pre-Georgian era, a mercenary is asked to come and deal with a ‘Wolf’ problem that no one local wants to touch after a local man goes missing believed dead. It reminded me of the Michael Crichton novel Eaters of the Dead (filmed as The Thirteenth Warrior) that adapted the Grendel tale of Beowulf crossed with the historical account by Ahmad ibn Fadlan amongst the Vikings of the Volga region.
I feel this in the context where an outsider quests to a land different than his own and observes a dark problem, in Crichton’s tale the Arab ambassador to the Vikings to investigate attacks upon a Viking settlement, and in A Hunter’s Moon it is Callum as from the lower territories of Scotland travelling to the remote superstitious Highlands.
However, Weston leans into the supernatural side of Beowulf by evoking the folktales of Cú Sith, also known across this archipelago of isles as Cú Sidhe, Cwn Annwn (Gwyllgi), Barghest, Black Shuck, Black Dog, even Hellhound all bound by the mythology of being otherworldly beasts, or faery dogs.
It also reflects a cult classic, and Scottish set horror as it turns into a reverse Wicker Man! We feel the claustrophobia as the earthly ‘modern’ outsider is recruited to investigate a problem and belittles the local’s heathen world view. However instead of like the inhabitants of Summerisle pretending nothing is wrong, like Fraser is convinced, it’s just a wolf, everyone locally believes that the wolf is in fact a cú sith, the Scottish equivalent of a black shuck or faerie dog summoned by the spirits of the wood in retaliation for the landowner encroaching upon the faerie circle within the forest.
He looked at her for a moment and even opened his mouth to say he didn’t believe in such nonsense, but then he was scrambling impulsively closer to the water and kneeling on the bank.
I found the dichotomy of Callum and Mhairi the landlord’s daughter (and yes that chapter title gave me an earworm Danny!!) to be incredibly interesting. A bridge between the modern mindset and those too close to the wild to be so naive.
Callum is the weary, indentured teenager who encounters on their journey a strange woman singing and washing a shirt in the broch, immediately takes to the young foundling girl accused of being a Changeling, and is unconvinced from the beginning of the wolf explanation. He is uneducated and illiterate but raised within the cynicism of the southern territories, though superstitious enough to make a wish and almost welcomes this existence on the cusp of magic.
On the other hand Mhairi is this wayward spirited girl with an almost anachronistic (in a good way) gumption, she knows what people say about her foundling origins and indulges in it yet takes no nonsense. She is educated, literate, multi-talented yet an Earth child of the woods happier within the Forest and speaks of how humanity has lost its way through civilisation and economics. She is not a manic pixie dreamgirl however, but she is a spark of Fae with the knowledge of man and the scene where she takes him to the firefly speckled Clootie Well is one of my absolute favourites.
Their dichotomy of contradiction and paradox and juxtaposition to each other within the plot challenges and tumbles expectations and crash against each other and our own interpretations in this fascinating and compelling way.
‘I came to understand the way we live now… That’s not how we’re meant to be. Because you see, we are just babes ourselves, only in this world for a few score years. The forest has been there since the beginning of time, and when we are long turned to dust it will still be there. Watching.’Mhairi to Callum
The most powerful lesson that emanates from The Hunter’s Moon is the disconnect of modern society with nature and how sometimes nature bites back.
In the book. Weston explores disrespect given by society to nature, divorcing and neglecting the power of forests & natural spaces that we all feel sing in our blood when we step into the wild and the ridicule towards our heathen past in harmony with the land in favour of money and status.
Weston wrote this within the context of the world pandemic, whether you take this as an allegory for the natural world fighting back against humans through a zoonotic virus, or see it as the pausing of the world revealing what humans had lost once the space given for flamingos to return to waters, whales to swim up the Hudson and other species to flourish in the absence of the usual dominance of human activity it makes an interesting thought to the views of those like Colonel Chivers who acts against nature for his own personal gain with disregard for the consequences.
For lovers of classic sagas, historical fiction and well written superstitious folklore laden horror, this truly is a feast.
A Hunter’s Moon by Danny Weston is published by UCLan