Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Beguilers

by Kate Thompson


Rilka lives in a fairly isolated mountain village where people are closed to new ways of doing things. She doesn't fit in. Once a month everyone gathers to offer Intentions, or once in a while Great Intentions, announcing their plans for the future to the whole village. These promises are expected to be quite conservative, like fetching water or getting married, but Rilka has always been unorthodox.

The villagers are terrified of the beguilers. These pretty light-creatures are only visible at night, and they're said to mesmerise people and lead them to their doom. To set out to capture one is considered madness. But Rilka wants to know more about them, in order to discover why they wail in the night and where they come from. Are they as dangerous as people believe they are? She knows that searching for beguilers is taboo and will bring shame on her and her family, and that madness and death are the probable outcomes. But how can she suppress her curiosity and live the dull, unexamined life that everyone else endures?

The mountain environment is an intriguing mix of the alien and the familiar. There are goats and rhododendrons, but also lots of exotic plants and creatures, such as the rare and valuable jub trees or the highly poisonous druze bushes. Some of the oddest creatures are the chuffies. These are like cute, furry pets with their own burbling language, who soak up people's negative emotions and seek out people who feel sad. Rilka is allergic to them, but for most villagers they're a constant comfort.

The Beguilers is fascinating, partly for the unusual world Kate Thompson has created, and partly due to Rilka's struggle with her own nature and everyone else's expectations of her. She lives in a believable society with its own set of customs that ring true for a small and somewhat backward community. As well as the stigma of what she wants to do she also has to contend with a dangerous environment full of sheer cliffs, frozen peaks, icy drowning pools and other hazards. As the mystery deepens the land also gets stranger, and there's a growing feeling that the beguilers are much closer to the people of the village than mere impersonal night-time monsters. Rilka has offers of help in her quest, but she rarely gets the kind of assistance she was expecting.

This book is both a very easy and a compelling read, and I was impressed by the author's storytelling skill. Although Rilka faces frequent dangers her battles are largely mental struggles to keep focused and stay true to herself. The plot very rarely turns to violence. Instead it's a unique and intelligent tale that uses an enchanting mystery to discuss the power of curiosity, and the fearlessness it takes to go against custom and make new discoveries.

12th September 2011

Book Details

Year: 2001

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
    Female Protagonist  

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