Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay
Garmoran, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by John C. Adams
Garmoran Publishing features the tagline ‘Literature from the Scottish West Highlands’. It is run by Hayleigh Barclay and Sylvia Hehir, both of whom have doctorates in Creative Writing from Glasgow University. This recently launched small press describes itself as featuring authors working in a wide range of genres.
It’s 1897 and Elise de Volonte is a rebellious eighteen-year-old who’ll do anything to protect her boyfriend Jacque, including kill to save him. Living in the middle of nowhere at Loch Fala up in the Highlands of Scotland doesn’t help. She’s pushing back against the unreasonable demands placed upon her by the Inservium, who demand that she complete various holy assignments to prevent them from killing Jacque.
Elise’s journey to rescuing her boyfriend is centred upon her realisation that she is a vampire, something she finds as perplexing as she does empowering. Disturbing discoveries and choices lie ahead for her.
The book’s opening scenes were set in the modern-day. This unsettled me as we then jumped back to the nineteenth century and remained there for almost all the rest of the narrative. Throughout the book, I really just wanted to find out more about Elise in the modern-day. That’s the story I yearned to have told to me. I’m really hoping this book will develop into a series because it feels like she has many fascinating adventures ahead of her.
Reading this book, it already felt like I was in the company of established characters in a second or third book in a series, as the introductions and setting up of the main characters was quite casual. However, I couldn’t find any reference online to this being the second in a series.
The author’s world-building was very vivid and detailed. I loved the array of minor characters and different locations presented, and the writing really came alive here. However, the greatest strength of this novel lay in its presentation of a feminist vampire tale from the nineteenth century, reclaiming the Victorian vampire story from the voices of male characters and authors. The story is very much Elise’s, unfiltered through male narrators and voices. While Elise’s primary drive is to save her boyfriend, the support network she encounters is female. I really liked the way that the power structure more often associated with a coven of witches was brought into the vampire genre.
An impressive debut from a talented writer we deserve to see much more of in the future.
Highly recommended within the literary vampire subgenre.
Review the reviewers! If you’ve read this novel, or just have some thoughts on any point made in this review, tag me at @JohnCAdamsSF on Twitter to share them.