You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but how could I resist the artwork of Joanne Harris’ 2017 novel A Pocketful of Crows? The black background, the gold embossing, the stylized crow… I immediately snatched it up.
It’s a story based heavily on the traditions and holidays of medieval England, with chapters divided into months and snippets of various ballads and proverbs added throughout, both of which help lay the foundation of the story.
A shapeshifting wild girl of the forest meets by chance a highborn noble, and soon becomes infatuated by him. The feeling seems mutual, but after a whirlwind romance, reality sets back in and the girl is asked to leave the castle.
Naturally, a creature of the wild doesn’t take rejection very well, and soon the girl is plotting revenge against William McCormac, the maidservant who took her place, and the rest of the village. In turn, the leaders of the community try to hunt her down, forcing her to hide among the fey creatures and wild animals of the countryside.
Taking place over the course of a single year, the story contains many interesting details about ancient traditions and folklore, as well as lovely descriptive passages of nature and illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins.
But A Pocketful of Crows is a short book, one that could easily be read in a single sitting, which means it’s difficult to really get invested in the main character, especially when her choice to pursue William is so obviously foolish, and her revenge scheme so harmful to herself and others.
Still, it ends on an unexpected note and altogether makes for a light, intriguing read.
I am as brown as brown can be, And my eyes as black as sloe; I am as brisk as brisk can be, And wild as forest doe. (The Child Ballads, 295)
So begins a beautiful tale of love, loss and revenge. Following the seasons, A Pocketful of Crows balances youth and age, wisdom and passion and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless wild girl.
Only love could draw her into the world of named, tamed things. And it seems only revenge will be powerful enough to let her escape.
Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.