fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand fantasy book reviewsWylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorite writers, prose-wise, and I just love languidly relaxing into her style. I feel like I’m always looking for the same kind of writing in other authors — and having been remiss in reading Hand for the last few years, it was nice to finally enjoy the real thing again with the short novel Wylding Hall. Her prose is actually more spare than usual; it has to be, as the entire story is told in dialogue. Hand makes it work, though, and Wylding Hall is as atmospheric as her earlier works.

The frame story here is a documentary about the folk band Windhollow Faire, who in the early seventies made a brilliant album that was also their downfall. The band had retreated to the crumbling Wylding Hall to record the album and to regroup after a tragedy. While there, their lead singer, Julian, vanished forever. Forty years later, the surviving band members reflect on what happened.

Hand uses the different points of view to put forth competing theories about Julian’s disappearance, theories that unfold organically from each character’s personality. For example, there’s one band member who’s heavily into the folklore and superstitions of the area, and another who wishes everybody would just shut up about all the woo-woo and get back to the music, and of course they draw vastly different conclusions. There are several possibilities here: Was Julian murdered for mundane reasons? Ritually sacrificed? Did he just flake out and wander off? I thought I knew what had happened, and then the ending threw me one more curveball. The hints leading up to it are there, but I hadn’t put them together in that way.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Wylding Hall is a character in its own right, too. If you’re like me and love spooky old houses, just go order this now. It’s creepy and beautiful and horrific, and its magic is of the sort where space and time just don’t seem to work right. I know some of my fellow FanLitters have read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree, and if you remember that scene where they tried to walk to the tree, it’s like that. Staircases don’t do what they’re supposed to. Barrow hills seem to grow taller once you’re on them. And oh, how I’d love to spend a day in that library.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wylding Hall; it’s rich with folklore, with vivid personalities (you might be confused by the many POVs early on, but they distinguish themselves quickly), and with a great sense of place and time, and it’s pretty darn scary too. And I’m pretty sure you’ll wish the album was real.

I also had the opportunity to listen to Blackstone Audio’s rendition of Wylding Hall, and I recommend it BIG-TIME. The readers are Jennifer Woodward, John Telfer, Dan Morgan, Emma Fenney, Simon Victor, Kris Dyer, Charlotte Strevens, and David Thorpe. This is a novel that lends itself very well to audio format, and listening to the actors reading it, you really could imagine you’re listening to, say, a radio documentary on NPR about an absolutely real band.

~Kelly Lasiter

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand fantasy book reviewsHand’s writing is always lyrical, and this time it’s actually combined with music and a seemingly gentle haunting that becomes less so as the novella continues.

~Terry Weyna


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

    View all posts
  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

    View all posts