A Review by Lin Sten of Patricia A. Leslie's novel, The Ballad of Young Tam Lin
While writing several historical novels set in the ancient Mediterranean, I did some research on the Greek gods and goddesses, nymphs, satyrs, and such; however, since childhood I had never read a story about faeries. Thus, Tinkerbell was my only faery encounter as an adult. Having decided that it was time to expand my horizons, I sought a novel of the fae, with the main restriction being that it fit my limited attention span—meaning that it should be no more than three hundred pages. Of my first random selection, I got through only the first several chapters before I put that book aside, because I cared for none of the characters despite an interesting story premise.
Then, mostly by chance, I came upon Patricia A. Leslie’s novel, The Ballad of Young Tam Lin, which, despite its prohibitive (to me) 460 pages, has a beautifully designed cover, and an interesting blurb on the back suggesting mysterious doings between our mortal world and Summerland. So I began reading with no background in the myth, mystique, and lore of faeries and elves.
Through Ms. Leslie’s trusty plume, Carterhaugh Wood, March Castle, the glade, Summerland, and all other places come alive as much as the human, faery, elf, etc., characters. The story is interesting enough and interwoven so well with the character development that with each new character I promptly began to wonder what his or her fate might be. And the horse Blanchard I would definitely like to ride as much as I would like to meet Daniú, the elf-queen, and visit her Bower.
As good an example of any regarding Ms. Leslie’s faery touch, beyond simply managing something as fundamental as the logic and story structure of this deep tale, which she also successfully managed as far as the left side of my brain could comprehend it, is her evocation of the Black Rose, of which I will say no more so as not to spoil anything. The associated glade, wherein rests Daniú’s Bower, and its magical proximity to the veil between our mortal world and Summerland, was also beautifully presented; I felt that I might as easily as Janet or John (Tam Lin) pass through the glimmer there.
The use of eighteenth-century Scottish dialect made an excellent addition to one’s sense of time and place. Ms. Leslie’s prodigious knowledge of the physical world was matched by her skillful description of it. Editorial errors were infrequent enough to not be a distraction.
Given my initial lack of interest in this type of story—having taken it up by conscious choice rather than by emotional urge, psychological force, or the need to read—at every page I was not surprised at my lack of urgent need to know what would happen next. (I must admit that I had similar experiences in reading some of the classics.) On the other hand, at no time was I bored as I continued to read; indeed, my attention never flagged; the reading, mostly aloud to my mate, was effortless. Ms. Leslie has thus succeeded marvelously in her art.
Being a complete neophyte to the genre, I am loathe to rate this novel, whether for its entertainment or literary value, believing that what I have written above must suffice for my response to this high quality work; however, it I were given no choice other than to summarize my response in a number or to take a bullet in the head—my ignorance be dammed—I surely would give this novel four stars (out of a possible five).
P. S. Without wanting to drift too far from the core of this review, I could not help but be reminded that any good book about humans, and some not, will always be relevant to the human condition today: beyond Janet’s pregnancy itself, how apropos of our current global situation is Jessie’s comment, “I think that most folks try tae tell themselves that things arena’ what they seem tae be, when the truth isna’ very pleasant, Miss Janet.” This truth is why our political, financial, industrial, and religious leaders can ‘get away with murder.’ Also, I appreciated the inclusion of a glossary of Scottish dialect, though I dinna’ need it.
P.S.S. My favorite chapters were 1, 2, 21, 22, and 23, though there were many others that I enjoyed almost as much as these.
You can find The Ballad of Young Tam Lin at: