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Moon In Leo, by Kathleen Herbert

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Carla
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Moon In Leo, by Kathleen Herbert

Post by Carla » Thu May 12th, 2011, 12:24 pm

Trifolium Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9568104-0-3. 402 pages.

Moon In Leo is set in Furness in northern England in 1678, against the background of the Popish Plot. Historical figures including the Earl of Shaftesbury, Earl of Rochester and Titus Oates play important off-stage roles, and others such as the Quaker Margaret Fox appear as minor characters. All the main characters are fictional.

Highly intelligent and educated by her father as a scholar in alchemy, Rosamund Halistan has expected that she and her beloved twin brother Stephen will carry on their father’s work together, unaffected by the political, social and economic troubles brewing in Restoration England. When an attempt is made on Stephen’s life, Rosamund realises that political turmoil is not some distant irrelevance but a real threat to her and her family. Trying to protect her brother and then in danger of her own life, Rosamund comes into contact with two contrasting men, the gentlemanly scholar and fellow-alchemist Simon Challis, and the notorious rake Henry Ravensworth. Both want to marry her, but Rosamund fears that one or both is an enemy with designs on her brother’s life and her inheritance. As treason and plot turn murderous, Rosamund must decide who – if anyone – she can trust.

Moon In Leo is set almost exclusively in the small area of the Furness peninsula in what is now south Cumbria (then Lancashire-over-sands), south of the main Lake District mountains and jutting out into the vast tidal flats of Morecambe Bay between the estuaries of the Leven and Duddon rivers. So powerful is the sense of place in the writing that not only can every step of the action be precisely located, the landscape itself almost seems to be an actor in the drama, from the brooding hills around dark Frith Hall to the sunny farmland at Scales and the wide skies and mercurial tides of the Cartmel sands. Readers who know the area will recognise many of the locations, and readers who don’t will find themselves transported there by the writing. I’m reasonably familiar with the Coniston fells, less so with the plains and the coast, and I had great fun tracing the routes and places on a large-scale topographical map.

Rosamund Halistan is the central character, and most of the novel is told in third person from Rosamund’s viewpoint. So it is through Rosamund’s eyes that the reader sees most of the world, and forms a first impression of most of the other characters. Nothing is as it seems, however, and Rosamund often finds herself having to revise her original assessments – sometimes drastically so – as she learns more about the other people and the complicated relationships between them. Everyone is an individual with their own foibles and motivations, past history, values, hopes and desires. As the story unfolds, hidden connections are revealed, and Rosamund comes to realise that many people are far more complex than she originally assumed. For all her intelligence and learning, Rosamund has been educated for all her 18 years in an academic ivory tower, leaving her ill-equipped to navigate the world outside, especially when she comes into contact with the murky world of politics and plot. Warm-hearted and deeply loyal to her family and the philosophy in which she was raised, she is inclined to leap to conclusions that often turn out to be unfounded and lead her into trouble. Her cleverness and courage go a long way towards extricating her from problems, though she also has to rely on help from other, often unexpected, quarters. Rosamund’s alchemical philosophy is all about the search for truth and perfection, and this is neatly paralleled by her search for the truth about the events and people in her life.

As Rosamund, her father and Simon Challis are all practitioners of the occult, supernatural elements such as demons, visions, out-of-body travel through time and space, and use of a crystal ball to see and control distant events play a large part in the novel, almost tipping into historical fantasy. I say ‘almost’, because although these incidents are all too real to Rosamund and are central to her beliefs and actions, not all the characters believe in the occult and it’s largely left up to the reader to decide which beliefs to share. As one of the characters wryly observes, “He took a sigil [magical symbol used to conjure demons] to Chapel Island, but he also took a loaded gun.” Or “…. they had a stroke of luck, as Harry would have put it. Rosamund would have said that the Power guiding the universe was looking kindly on their intentions.” Conjuring tricks and charlatanry feature alongside the alchemy and occult practices, and are just as readily accepted as real by some of the characters. Indeed, one of the most magical episodes in the novel is explicitly shown as an elaborate trick performed with benign intent and happy outcome. I wonder if there is a subtle point there about the nature of magic and belief.

The range of beliefs and cultures in the novel is a particularly attractive feature. As well as alchemy and black magic, there are roles for Puritans, Catholics, gypsies, rational materialism bordering on atheism, and a mother-goddess fertility cult closely tied to the traditional rhythms of the farming year. There is a range of political ideas as well, with Royalist versus Parliamentary rivalries left over from the English Civil War only a generation before, disputes over the royal succession, factions disaffected at corruption in government and licentiousness at court, and the egalitarian ideas of the Society of Friends*. The characters think and believe as well as feel, and there is a real sense of turmoil and political upheaval as competing ideas clash.

A list of characters at the front of the book is very helpful for keeping everyone straight, especially in the early chapters as different groups of people are introduced in quick succession. A hand-drawn map at the front is also useful for following the characters’ movements (and the 1:25,000 topographical map in the link above provides even more detail).

Compelling tale of a young woman’s search for truth and love, set in the romantic landscape of Furness in turbulent post-Restoration England.

*Also known as Quakers
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
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Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Thu May 12th, 2011, 8:52 pm

Thanks for the comprehensive review, Carla. Sounds like an interesting book.
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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Tue May 24th, 2011, 6:25 pm

Just out of curiosity, is that definition of a sigil the book provides?

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Post by annis » Wed May 25th, 2011, 2:45 am

The sigil in Moon in Leo is described as "a coin of blackened-grey metal, about the size of a crown-piece or a little larger. It had an inscription in Hebrew letters. The other side was marked with an engraving made of straight lines and curves, circles and crosses. At first sight it appeared to be a design, yet it was impossible to make out."

Rosamund tells us a little later that this coin is a sigil of the demon Glasyalabolas.

"Glasyalabolas, a mighty president of the infernal hierarchy. He comes in the form of a dog, with wings like a griffin. He incites to bloodshed, governs all murders. He can show all things past, present and to come...

Whoever had taken that sigil to Chapel Island had meant murder"

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Sigil of Glasyalabolas. This is Rosamund's engraving of "straight lines and curves, circles and crosses".
Last edited by annis on Wed May 25th, 2011, 3:36 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Post by Carla » Wed May 25th, 2011, 11:45 am

Thanks, Annis!

Rowan - no, that was my very approximate description, which is why I put it in square brackets to indicate that it isn't part of the quote. 'Sigil' isn't a particularly common word and I thought it might be helpful to give a rough idea of what it is so that the contrast implied by "he took a sigil to Chapel Island but he also took a loaded gun" would be clearer to someone who's not familiar with the occult.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Wed May 25th, 2011, 12:40 pm

Thanks for the clarification.

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Post by Madeleine » Wed May 25th, 2011, 1:28 pm

Sigil seems to be a popular term at the moment, it's also used in "Game of Thrones" (book and TV series) to describe each family's symbol ie a dragon, wolf, sea monster whatever.

I'd never heard the word until recently, now sigils seem to be popping up all over the place!
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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Wed May 25th, 2011, 2:58 pm

I've just never heard it used to describe a symbol that conjures demons since I don't know of any pagans who believe in demons. I only know it as a symbol of protection. Something anyone can create.

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Post by annis » Wed May 25th, 2011, 7:31 pm

Glasyalabolas appears in The Key of Solomon, a 17th century grimoire, or book on magic, incorrectly attributed to King Solomon. It probably dates back to the 14th or 15th century Italian Renaissance.

Included in this grimoire is a demonology where all the demons are ranked and given physical attributes and sigils. These sigils were presumably used to conjure up a specific demon or to invoke some particular quality associated with him.

A sigil (from Latin sigillum "seal") is just a symbol created for a specific magical purpose and usually made up of a complex combination of several specific symbols or geometric figures, each with a specific meaning or intent. The sigil and intent can be either good or bad according to the user's desire. Clearly if you're using a sigil connected with a demon, your intent is unlikely to be benevolent.
Last edited by annis on Thu May 26th, 2011, 2:27 am, edited 14 times in total.

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