Review: Comet Weather
Comet Weather by Liz Williams could be described as Contemporary Fantasy or Magic Realism. It is set in the present day in our real world, but with magical elements added in.
The tale is one of four sisters, whose mother left a year ago and has not been heard from since. The sisters, Bee, Stella, Serena and Luna, separated to go in their own directions, Stella to peruse her music, Serena to continue as her career in fashion, Luna to travel with her boyfriend, while Bee stays home in the South West of England. Now they feel drawn together to solve the mystery of where their mother went and if they can bring her home.
The novel is written in an engaging style, the sisters are interesting, not perfect, but they feel like real people that we might know or be friends with. They interact with others, relatives, friends, boyfriends and lovers as well as those who seem to be adversaries, but also stars and ghosts. When I say “stars” I don’t mean actors or musicians, although there are one or two of them, but personifications of constellations or individual stars that are usually only seen at their house, but seem to be breaking a few of the usual rules. These are generally young women who have an associated plant or flower, which they carry, and a mineral or gem stone. The interactivity of the ghosts varies, from the very amenable gentleman, Dark, to those who seem less able or willing to communicate. (add example)
Williams plays on the idea that there is magic in our world, if you are in the right location, born of the right bloodline or just happen to be looking at the right time. The physical places are important, the family home is so steeped in its history it almost feels like a character in its own right. The nearby church with its churchyard where their Grandfather is buried, and still appears as a flickering light to offer them advice, also provides lynch paths, ancient paths where the coffin would be carried which have magical significance. Much of the magic is very tied to nature and natural phenomenon such as the stars or the titular comet, as well as the turning seasons. It’s not really a tale for those without an open mind or who are not prepared to suspend their disbelief for a little while. The magic is not explained or codified, there are no obvious spells or magic wands as such, it is simply presented as the sisters see it.
There is a subtle gender-based message in the story, the sisters don’t know who their fathers are, and don’t think they share a father, they are not married themselves, although there are relationships with men who are valued. They patriarchal idea that women need men and cannot exist outside a relationship is very definitely absent. Luna’s relationship with Ben seems very solid, they have an equal partnership with neither in charge as such. Even their adversaries take both male and female form. The links of sisterhood and from mother to daughter are central to the story, but the ghost of their grandfather does feature also.
Anyone who loves Joanne Harris's Chocolat, Cecelia Ahern's If You Could See Me Now or Claire North's The Sudden Appearance of Hope, are likely to love Comet Weather as well. Its a real exploration of the relationships, but with a faster moving plot, of finding their mother, alongside this. An appealing tale of love, family and nature, sprinkled with a little magic.