Excerpt from Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith X
Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith
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  • Published:
    Nov 2016, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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A Note From The Author

Some of the words in this book are Manx, the talk of the people of Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. This language nearly died out but is now reviving. There are still only two thousand speakers of it in the world. The language of the Vikings is called Old Norse. The author would like to thank Ruarigh Dale of the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age at the University of Nottingham, U.K., for giving Ulf words.


Aunti Ushag said I wasn't fit to be around. She said it was beyond her how a body could be so prickly and dark. She said it gave her the Screaming Purples just to look at me, always lying around looking sideways at her like a reptile on a hot rock. That if I couldn't raise myself on my hind legs and help, the least I could do was go away and leave her to it.

Honor Bright, all I said was I wished she'd open her mind a bit and that she didn't know all about everything. I said she couldn't prove that our Marrey great-grandmother wasn't a merrow. She couldn't swear that Mam had run away after Pa drowned, now, could she? All I said was perhaps Mam had actually just gone home to her people under the sea, and that she could come back to us one day, if she wanted to. I only said it was possible.

"What you don't witness with your eyes, don't witness with your mouth," my aunt snapped. She could be as tight-minded and purse-mouthed as the southerners she hated so. These days she was as touchy as a slug, and wholly unreasonable. I slipped out the window with her still wittering on behind me, and was nearly away when she shouted, "Never mind me opening the mind. What about you opening and using the door?"

That woman had eyes in the back of her head. "And fetch some garlic if you can spare the time."

I headed for the cows.

In the byre I filled my stomach with warm, foamy milk straight from Breck. Bo lowed softly and butted me, gentle but determined as always. I rested my head on hers, smelling her warmth and listening to the crunch and creak as she ate. She was only a calf, and I loved that we could stand head to head and eye to eye. As we stood that way, I felt some of her steadiness pass into me. There's nothing more peaceful than a happy cow.

All winter I'd been tormented by these restless humors. My legs itched inside, and I just had to walk. It was the only thing that helped. I walked through icy wind and sleet, storms and thunder, and those days that sulk about in grey garments and sighs. Each day, I walked farther and found more of Carrick's hidden places. I was sure Auntie Ushag knew nothing of these warm hollows filled with dry leaves and molted fur, or those caves up the gorge where bats hang all day like drying kelp. Life was all work to her. She probably knew only the yard and her trapping trails, and the cove.

I was sure she knew nothing of the little inlet tucked into the cove's cliff walls. Its white sand and green water, its climbers and dangling vines appeared to me a kind of impossible paradise. I could see all the way to its sandy seabed and even make out the schools of tiny fish and deep drifting weed. I heard the inlet call to me; I knew it was my own, my very own, but I couldn't find a way to get down the sheer face. All I could do was stand on the cliff and look as the inlet beach whispered and gleamed.

We have always had days when this island floats in an edgeless blue world. When I was young, they'd been easy days to be happy, but now everything was wrong. The sun was too hot, the sky was too blue, the dawn birds screamed at the blinding sun, and the cows bored or bullied me. All talk ended in trouble, and Auntie Ushag and I were strangers.

Even the island had grown restless. We had been rocked by earthshakes all through fall and winter. In our cove, the cliff had been quietly slipping into the sea, rock by rock and stone by stone. Summer had been calm, but the very ground now had this pent-up quality, and we lived with one eye on the cliffs. I didn't mind. It suited my humor, which was full of dark predictions and trouble.

Excerpted from Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith. Copyright © 2016 by Ananda Braxton-Smith. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Beyond the Book:
  Vikings on the Isle of Man

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