A Ritual Journey
By Cheryl Morgan
I think I’ve mentioned before that Sean Wallace of Prime seems to know just the right books to send me. Things turn up out of the blue, and they seem to be just what I want. In this particular case the volume in question was a slim book called Killing with the Edge of the Moon, by A.A. Attanasio. It calls itself a "graphic novel (without illustrations)", but it is actually a dark fantasy novella providing a modern riff on Celtic myth.
Many religions have myths in which someone dies, or is at least snatched away, and then his or her lover journeys to the underworld to perform a rescue. None of these myths, as far as I know, involve the goddess, Blodeuwedd. She is, however, a good choice as the focus of such a story, and Attanasio shows a deft touch with mythology in the way he uses her.
Jerking like a puppet, Nedra danced about her tree stump altar. Silver threads decorating her long-sleeved gown glittered in the moonlight with embroidered spirals, hex signs and raying stars. Skinny arms, thin as sticks in those wide cuffs, beat the darkness, and long hair jerked across her haggard face.
Our modern day Blodeuwedd is the teenage Flannery Lake. She lives with her aged grandmother, Nedra Fell, in a roadside store from which Nedra sells pagan charms to tourists. The setting is perhaps Ireland, though Attanasio never says so and he drops in far too many Americanisms for it to be convincing. As far as Flannery is concerned, her grandmother is a liability, yet another reason for kids at school to tease her. She doesn’t believe a word of the nonsense about magic and the Shee that Nedra obsesses over. Perhaps if she knew how old her "grandmother" really was, she would take it more seriously.
The other half of our lovers’ knot is Chester "Chet" Hubert, a geeky boy with a talent for math and an upper-middle-class family that is as much an embarrassment to him as Flannery’s extreme poverty is to her. Being the two outsiders of the class, Chet feels that he and the fey girl have something in common. But Flannery affects to despise the world. She’s a professional loner. Heck, if someone offered her the chance to leave this world behind she’d jump at it, no matter how many times Nedra has warned her about such offers.
In modern times, the Moon has become a rock. In the time of the faerïe, she was the swollen belly of mother night authoring souls and dreams. Rock and dream. The edge between these realities is sharp — and the faerïe use that edge to kill.
While the mythology in the book was fairly well done (apart perhaps for the dragon stuff, which didn’t feel at all Celtic to me), what I really liked about the story was the kids. Both Flannery and Chet are outsiders and are regularly bullied at school. Flannery’s difference is perhaps explainable. She doesn’t exactly come from a normal family. Chet, on the other hand, is a perfectly ordinary kid who has spent much of his school life being tormented, mainly because his parents are over-protective and he’s not smart enough to pretend not to be smart. His story is that no matter how low you have got — no matter how wretched and awful everyone tells you that you are — redemption is still possible. No one’s life is completely worthless if it can be given away to save the life of someone you love.