The Silver Bough is a gentle fantasy that weaves Scottish mythology, magic and romance into a seamless tale of wonder. It follows three women who are trapped in Appleton after a landslide, who all meet a mysterious stranger and are drawn into an enchanted world that may hold the key to the survival of the old town.
The book begins with Ashley, who has come to this backwater in search of her family’s past – her grandmother once lived in Appleton, and was even crowned the Apple Queen in her youth, but ran away to America and buried her past so deeply it’s only just come to light. The story is told through chapters alternating from the view of Ashley, Kathleen, the town librarian, and Nell, a widowed recluse with a passion for growing apples. I think Kathleen and Nell’s stories are more interesting and compelling than Ashley’s – Ashley’s demeanour and actions didn’t seem natural to me, her story didn’t really make sense.
The strangely ageless man who ties the three women together brings the old stories to life, and as plot progresses, it becomes clear that Appleton, now cut off from the world, is slipping away into a world full of magic. I liked the way the story is told, with excerpts from books on Scottish history and mythology (and sometimes they’re indistinguishable!) interleaved with the gradual buildup of the fantastical element of the narrative.
Although Appleton spends a lot of the book shrouded in fog, both literally and figuratively, I think the author has brought the small town to life admirably. I could well imagine the quaint atmosphere that permeated the town, the happiness and contentment of the populace before Appleton declined, and their despair when the apples stopped growing, when the cider business went bust, when the tourists stopped coming through. Appleton becomes a character in the book, with its own history and sometimes sinister motivations.
I enjoyed The Silver Bough a lot, and love its clever mix of contemporary story-telling and otherworldly magic. This is a slower-paced novel, and I would recommend it to readers who are looking for a gentle fairy story. I’ll be looking out for more of Lisa Tuttle’s books in the future.