Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Freakslaw

Author: Jane Flett

Publisher: Doubleday


Reviewed by: Stephen Frame

Other details: Hardback, £15.63

Freakslaw by Jane Flett

Stephen Frame

It’s summer in Pitlaw, a Scottish mining town where horizons and options are limited. Into this hub of conformity comes the Freakslaw, a travelling fun fair that is everything Pitlaw is not. Where Pitlaw is grey, the Freakslaw is multi-hued. Where Pitlaw is straight-laced, the Freakslaw can’t wait to shed its lace or whatever else it happens to be wearing. These are two worlds apart, and now they’ve collided.

The residents of Pitlaw are outraged. Except the ones who are intrigued, those who are drawn to the gaudy neon of the Freakslaw. One of these is Ruth, a nerd, over-achiever and desperate to escape. Another is Derek, who is still at school and still finding himself, a self that Pitlaw will not let him be. In the Freakslaw itself, amongst the folks who are different, there is Nancy, a contortionist and witch who delights in bringing chaos to people’s lives. These three are the nexus of the inevitable collision between Pitlaw and the Freakslaw, and it is this collision or multiple collisions and the fallout from them that make up the story. However, this isn’t a story of a travelling fair randomly turning up at a place so ill-suited to host them. The Freakslaw has an agenda for Pitlaw, one that stretches into the distant past. But Pitlaw will not surrender easily. It is protected by the hard magic of angry men who will turn to violence at the slightest pretext.

Now, there aren’t many novels set in small Scottish mining towns, much less fantasy novels. So, this immediately sets Freakslaw apart, and maybe that would be enough to make it worth reading. The book is beautifully written, with lush prose that begs to be savoured. I could go on at length about the prose, but it is better to let it speak for itself. Here’s a random sample from page 130.

“The streets are squish and sawdust. The rides are at high pelt, the air thick with endorphins and burned popcorn.”

That alone makes it more than worth reading. Until you get to the characters and their stories. The inhabitants of the Freakslaw are a joyous riot, but the real strength of the narrative lies in the residents of Pitlaw. Characters are so well-drawn that they come across as people you’re sure you’ve known at some point. Especially if you’ve been brought up in a small Scottish mining town.

Beg, borrow, or buy this one. Because when the Freakslaw comes to town, you want to be around for it.

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