Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang

This book was, by turns, mysterious, enchanting and very, very sweet. Containing just a touch of magic, and spanning forty years across America, it’s something that left me with a smile on my face after reading it.

The focus of the whole book is the mysterious Weylyn Grey: permanent nomad and closet magician. The beauty of this book, though, is that we never see anything from his viewpoint: the entire book is narrated from the perspective of the people who are touched by, or enter, his life. From the nurse who’s there at his birth- who notices a mysterious snowstorm when he starts crying- to Mary, the girl who runs away with him and then falls in love with him, the whole story is a kind of collage of his life, skipping backwards and forwards in time.

One of the best things about the book is how lovable the characters are. Though we only learn about Weylyn gradually- we first properly meet him as a vaguely threatening bogeyman when a young boy crashes through his shed roof- the people whose lives he touches are equally engaging in their own right, with their own backgrounds, hopes and fears. As they get to know Weylyn better, so do we: the effect is almost to create several small stories-within-a-story, but when we meet these characters later on in their lives, I felt genuinely interested in how they were doing and what had happened to them.

The common thread running through all of these characters’ lives, though, is Weylyn, and the magic that he brings with him. Weylyn himself is a great character: he’s warm, fascinating, and very easy to love. And reading about him is always great, because of the magic. It’s more magical realism than outright fantasy, this book, and the magic itself is laid on with a gentle hand, laced with humour and with the scepticism of the people whose eyes we’re seeing it happen through. Throughout the story, though, the book creates a sense of childlike wonder: from the luminous firefly honey that he collects with his sister’s children, to the wolves he was fostered by when he was a child, it feels like we’re discovering a whole other world, with the kind and enigmatic Weylyn at its centre.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, really. Ruth Emmie Lang writes with such gentle confidence that you’re drawn into the story from the start, and keep reading until the end. Combining the excitement of magic with warmth and humanity, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is as much a book about what it means to be loved as it is about the wonders of luminous firefly honey.

Book cover taken from Goodreads.

 

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