As 2015 begins, I can’t help but reflect on my favorite books of 2014. Probably one of the most influential was The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman, a Gothic Horror wrapped very neatly inside the structure of a fairy tale. Like most Gothics, the story is set in an exotic place. Though we don’t have the Gothic castle, we do have the snowy and isolated village of Nag’s End where our heroine, Rowan Rose, lives with her father, Henry Rose, and their maid, Emily. On the opening page, death has come to Nag’s End, when some strange beast attacks a group of soldiers who have camped not far from the village. From then on, the beast attacks again and again as the mystery of what the beast is grows more fascinating and complicated.
One of the dead soldiers wrote in the snow: “It’s starting.” And yes, does the horror start!
Rowan is a friend of the Parstle brothers, Tom and Jude. Rowan and Tom are best friends, and over the years, some in the village assume the two friends will be married. Rowan, however, is a special girl, special in the sense that she is smart and dreams of a life outside the village. You see, Rowan studies science with her father and disdains the superstitions of Nag’s End where witches and goblins abide beside a great Dark Forest. And oh, do I love those witches and goblins!
Immediately following the death of the soldiers, Rowan’s cousin, Fiona Eira comes to Nag’s End, and yes, at first sight, Fiona and Tom fall in love. This, by nature, is part of the fairy tale. But there is something mysterious about Fiona’s presence and the killing of the soldiers, and the mystery of the beast. What is it?
There is a nice retelling of Red Rose and Snow White in this story. We have two cousins (sisters), two brothers, one prince, and a strange beast. McCormick has twisted her tale into something very dark, something lethal, almost primal, as were all fairy tales in their beginnings. The Glass Coffin is also retold as some of the young girls and women of Nag’s End are doomed to die. Page by page, the story descends into the darkness of death.
Naturally, both Rowan and Tom are devastated when the beast kills Fiona. Yes, poor beautiful Fiona!
After her brutal murder, Fiona is laid out in a glass coffin and then buried where no one wants to go: “The cimetiere was a dark place. Through the wood and to the east, where men did not often walk, it was an ancient place, surround by an archaic stone wall. It was commonly believed that the spirits of the old ones lingered there, polluting the air. The ground in the cimetiere never froze. No one knew why. It wasn’t the kind of thing one wanted to spend much time contemplating. The soil there was thick and gray, an unchanging claylike substance that remained malleable despite the weather. No one but an elder was allowed to walk the grounds of the cimetiere. It was said to stay there too long could cause a man’s legs to wither, and his lungs to slowly fill up with blood.”
McCormick’s fairy tale is full of such folklore. In fact, the book is a homage to all fairy tales and how they layer stories with folklore and warnings. “Don’t go into the woods!”
I don’t want to spoil the story for new readers, but I will add that Rowan Rose and Jude Parstle together solve the mystery, save Tom, and yes, Rowan from a terrible fate while solving the mystery of the beast and its connection to Fiona and Nag’s End. They do this in spite of witches, princes, goblins, magic, and curses. Love wins in this dark fairy tale like it does in most fairy tales today. Love shines a light on a world of danger, but not without a price. That makes The Glass Casket one of the best books of 2014.
Some good links: