Looking for a wonderful blend of historical fiction and the fantastical? Well, look no further. Enter: The Parentations by Kate Mayfield. This epic novel spans the centuries, from Iceland in the 1700s to modern day London, we follow the sisters Fitzgerald and the Fowler family as their lives intertwine, sharing a deadly secret. A pool hidden deep in Iceland’s volcanic landscape grants those who drink from it eternal life – as long as they take the right dose. Gifted with sips of this magical elixir, our main characters must constantly adapt over the years, enduring the changing cultures and laws of London and the heartbreak near-immortality brings.
‘Immortality is no gift. In the absence of death, true darkness emerges…’
Kate Mayfield writes beautifully and masterfully captures a huge range of emotions as her characters navigate the years. Naturally there is loss, which no matter how much you prepare for it still hits hard, but there is also mystery, suspense and, occasionally, joy. The passing of decades allows Mayfield to tackle big themes and how the culture of specific periods shape the way each individual lives their life without compromising the pace of the plot.
I want to avoid spoilers so I won’t go into too many details, there is great joy to be had discovering them as you read, but her exploration of power is particularly captivating. One of our protagonists, Clovis, commands it and through her villainous actions we learn how it can twist the soul and spread misery. She is super fascinating. Selfish, arrogant and controlling, the way Clovis manipulates the members of her ‘family’ and the Fitzgerald sisters is shocking yet it is clear to see why the characters are unable to fight back. While some adhere to the historic boundaries of gender, sexuality and masculinity, Clovis lets nothing hold her back and it’s her inhibition and refusal to play by the rules that allows her to flourish – albeit with devastating consequences. Yet I just couldn’t get enough of her. She is magnificently terrifying. To be honest, all of the characters are well developed and enjoy similar amounts of page time. Which is hard to do with a large cast and not slow down the pace, however Mayfield achieves it easily.
The mystery and suspense elements of the story built up as the decades pass and you wonder how the characters will get any closure. The time jumps are expertly crafted and the atmosphere fairly sizzled off the page – I found myself gripping this beautiful hardback on the edge of my seat. The writing is as evocative as it is tense and I was ready for an unpredictable horrifying event that would culminate in either Clovis’ ultimate control or demise, or a grand victory for the wronged characters that would leave me cheering. In short, I was primed for an explosive finale.
Sadly, this was not to be and the ending was a little anti-climactic for me. My main difficulty with it was the volume of unanswered questions. Now if The Parentations was the beginning of a series, or if the ending had been an intentional cliffhanger of some sort, I could understand the almost abrupt ending. However, I don’t think either statement is applicable and the remaining questions left me feeling frustrated. A few of the ‘mysteries’ (eg. the identity of Benedikt) were predictable yet none of my frustrations diminished my overall enjoyment of the novel and I still highly recommend this for historical fiction lovers. This is a great exploration of love, loss, heartbreak and power and leaves you with a lot to think about – just don’t expect all the answers.