The Year of Ancient Ghosts is the first collection of stories by multiple award-winning Australian writer Kim Wilkins. Born in England, Kim Wilkins is the author of over 20 novels for readers of all ages. Her debut novel The Infernal won two Aurealis Awards. Her latest books, contemporary epic romances, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman, and include Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill. Kim Wilkins is a four-times winner of the Aurealis Award, twice winner of the Sassy Award for popular fiction, and winner of the Romantic Book of the Year award. The book collects 5 novellas, comprising two written especially for this collection and 2 reprints and the first print publication of “Wild Dreams of Blood.
Kim Wilkins is one of the authors who has long been on my “automatically buy” list, so when Ticonderoga Press announced the publication of “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, a collection of novellas and short stories, I happily pre-ordered the signed limited edition hardcover. As an aside, if you’re ever in the position where you’re trying to decide if Ticonderoga’s limited editions are worth the money, they absolutely are. They are absolutely beautiful books.
This collection is filled with vibrant, beautiful prose which highlights Wilkins’ expertise in the medieval period. In all of the stories, fantasy blends seamlessly with reality, to the point where it is difficult sometimes to tell which elements are fantastical and which are historical.
The collection opens with the titular “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, original to this collection, in which Jenny, unable to live by the side of her husband Lachlan, comatose after an accident, brings her two-year-old daughter Mary to the Orkney Islands, a trip that had been planned in order for Lachlan to write a book there. The ancient atmosphere of the Orkneys is vividly captured, along with the magic and mystery of the place. Gripping and emotional from start to finish.
“The Crown of Rowan” is an fantasy piece, reprinted here, set in a fantasy version of eight-century England. Told from the perspective of Rose, wife of one of the kings of Thyrsland, this story, for me, doesn’t quite hit the mark emotionally. In the afterward, Wilkins states that this story is a prequel to a fantasy epic in progress, and the worldbuilding in this indicates that the novel could be something really special.
“Wild Dreams of Blood”, also a reprint, intertwines the life of a modern-day woman, Sara (named in memory of Sara Douglass, a fact which brought a tear to my eye when I read the afterward), with Norse mythology. Wilkins renders Sara, and her violent tendencies and strength, so vividly that the appearance of a Norse god feels just as real. One of my favourites from this collection.
“Dindrana’s Lover” is another reprint, slightly reworked, in the Arthurian mythos, telling the story of Percival’s sister, and what happens to her after she is left in a sinister castle by her brother and Galahad. Dindrana herself lives and breathes, bringing real life to her tragic story. Creepy, gorgeous and heartwrenching.
The last story in the collection is the original “The Lark and the River”, which juxtaposes Christian mythology with the pagan/heathen worship which Christianity replaced. There is a real reverence for both kinds of religion in this piece, and Wilkins’ beautiful prose highlights the emotion of the protagonist Merewyn as she confronts her fate.
Overall, this is a collection well worth owning, even if you own the books in which the reprinted stories first appeared. “The Year of Ancient Ghosts” alone is worth the price of the book, I think. If you’re a fan of Wilkins, then buying this one is going to be a no brainer. And if you’ve never read her before, this could be a very good place to start.