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Cloven
Sally Spedding
Pan Macmillan, 467 pages


blacksheep
Cloven
Sally Spedding
Sally Spedding was born in Porthcawl, South Glamorgan. She studied sculpture at Manchester College Of Art. When her two daughters were young, her painter husband Jeffrey & Sally gave up their teaching posts in Essex and moved back to Wales to focus on their work while keeping sheep & ponies. However, she soon began teaching full time again and also undertook sculpture commissions for the British Museum, Aynsley China and many others. She is currently the creative writing tutor for Leicester University

Sally Spedding Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Ivan Browning has come to quiet, quaint Northamptionshire in order to escape the tragic accident that robbed a young girl of her life and him of his peace. Now he teaches a pottery class and lives in Tripp's Cottage, a place with a long and tragic history. His journey begins, ironically, when his car is stolen. The only real possible thieves are the Oakleys, a criminal family of great power. The villagers have long known that there's no sense in trifling with either the Oakleys or the Dawsons, a fact that Ivan is about to find out personally. Before he left his car, he suffered a sucking sensation on his hand, as if something was, well, sucking on his skin. It creates a funny mark that one of his students remembers as being similar to one she saw on a lady named Valerie Rook. This is what brings these two together, as they try to crack the mysterious disappearances, first of his car, then of a man who tries to help. It is Valerie who explains the strange nature of the place. Soon, they'll be trying to solve something much less mundane than crooked politics and incestuous town affairs.

And that is where Sian Richards comes in. We go back to the year 1830 to meet her, and discover in her a tragic and sorrowful figure. Trampled by a steer, she's a wreck... her leg's withered, she messes herself, she can only speak with great effort, mouthing her words rather than saying them. Her father has asked her brother to take her along with him on his cattle drive, to bring her to a doctor in London who may cure her condition. The more misfortunes that strike this drive, the meaner her brother gets, until he sells her as a prostitute, forcing her to run away with only a horse and a dog for company. With the local constabulary wanting to question her about a murder, she finds her way to Tripp's Cottage, where she is sheltered, even though the townspeople around her blame her for the outbreak of cholera. Will Ivan and Valerie be able to lay her fretful ghost to rest?

Cloven is not about any supernatural evil, but about the worst evil of all, that which lays in men's hearts. You can't help but feel great pity for sweet Sian, whose innocence and gentleness make every horrible thing that happens to her seem to hurt worse. We can't help liking Ivan, either, who is trying to make a life for himself, and trying to find a sort of salvation for what he did, even if he doesn't seem to know it. We feel horrible for him as he tries to get his car back, and as the Oakleys target him and Valerie for their bullying because of it. It becomes very scary, too, because the bullying slowly escalates, going past the reader just feeling bad and frustrated on Ivan's behalf to seriously worried.

But there are some supernatural elements. The atmosphere itself is quite creepy, as are the piteous cries for help that our mysterious ghost gives. The historical elements are handled very well, giving us a real feeling for the time, the cold, and the desperation, even as it contrasts against the easier, modern time.

More historical novel meets mystery than horror, Cloven is none the less a creepy and sorrowful look at the darker side of the human heart with enough of the lighter side to give us hope.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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