We are used to thinking of novels like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice as the über typical bildungsroman, or novel of personal development, where the feisty heroine endures hardship and attains maturity rewarded by their just desserts. But what happens when you combine the esoteric genre of fantasy with the bildungsroman? Coven of One by Kate Bousfield is one answer.
After the intriguing prologue, the scene is set with Dorcas Fleming, the heroine, about to graduate from her thoroughly long education and embark on her first witching placement. Life is only just beginning for Dorcas, as she is despatched beyond the normal boundaries of her known land. Initially, the pace of the novel reflects a rural perspective: nature is lovingly invoked without being overly wordy and the slow build up to Dorcas’ departure is justified by the incorporation of additional exposition which is essential to later plot development.
Bousfield’s created world holds intact for the most part in her novel. The successive trials and tribulations of Dorcas’ sojourn with the heathen unbelievers of the foreign land are not only entertaining but explore our own deep-seated beliefs about the ‘other’ in society. What happens when seemingly opposing forces come together within a feminine context? Rather than war, there is resolution through communication, understanding and good old-fashioned feminine wiles, as Dorcas wins the confidence of a deeply mistrustful community through the women-folk first.
Coven of One as a debut novel reflects a world carefully crafted from imagination and reality, with a superb writing style and a sure voice. All characters are vividly painted: most especially Dorcas. Bousfield draws on sea-lore, herb-lore, witchcraft and much, much more in this novel. Without giving too much of the plot away, it is enough to say that although this novel fuses realism with fantasy, it is neither too clever, nor superficial, it bears re-reading and the dramatic climax of the book is well executed.
Following Dorcas’ development to emotional maturity through this ‘other’ world definitely enhances reader’s enjoyment. Fantasy works on a level that some readers may find difficult to reconcile with fiction set in the contemporary world. But sometimes the imagined fantasy world created, reaches from the ordinary world we inhabit to beyond it, credibly stretching our notions of what is possible. Magic can, and does happen in real life (although that may depend on your own point of view) and perhaps that is the best satisfaction of all.
This is highly recommended reading for a wide range of age groups, whether a young adult or more mature reader. It is to be hoped that Bousfield’s imaginative world houses other characters and novels for the future! Available from Opening Chapter.