Old Roads and Ancient Magic
by Verlyn Flieger
Review by Malcolm R. Campbell
Once upon a time, before time and technology banished most magic beyond the farthest reaches of human awareness, travelers walked old and often diminishing roads until nightfall where, if they were favored by fortune, they spent an evening with cider, stew and fresh baked bread around a fire in an old country inn hearing tales that were in the process of coming true.
Verlyn Flieger celebrates those long-ago days in her folktale-style novel “The Inn at Corbies’ Caww.” The novel, about four people who arrive at a forgotten inn by happenstance or some hidden design, is not only a wonderful tale, but a book filled with delightful prose that is filled with spells and light.
Picture this: A starving and feverish young girl arrives at Corbies’s Caww on a rainy night while crows hide within the shelter of night and the dark forest. She is given a bit of food and a blanket near the fire, but then sleeps fitfully for several days until the fever breaks and she returns to the world. Korvie, the old woman who owns the inn, insists that the girl bathe and wash her hair, for she looks like she hasn’t done either for weeks.
When the girl wakes, Flieger writes, “Her whole body was more sharply defined, as if she had just stepped into the world newly-risen from the primal waters and some hand had drawn a line of light around her.”
Magic itself, the prose in this book follows rivers and old roads and draws the reader into the tale, and into the tales within the tale as told by a man known as Teller. He may or may not have known that young girl in another once upon a time, and perhaps as stories and evenings come and go, those at Corbies’ Caww will learn where their own stories are going and whether or not the endings are controlled by fate, crows or conscious choices.
The author, whose career has focused on college teaching and scholarly books about Tolkien, obviously knows the territory and the finest of all possible words for describing magic and time that twist and turn in upon themselves in a mysterious story with well-drawn characters, multi-layered settings and a hypnotic dance of darkness and light.
TITLE: “The Inn at Corbies’ Caww”
AUTHOR: Verlyn Flieger
PUBLISHER: Kitsune Books (September 30, 2011)