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Weave a Circle Round

November 5, 2018

There’s no way I could resist reading Kari Maaren’s new Weave A Circle Round, a fantasy novel with a title taken from the poem “Kubla Khan.” It begins like a standard young adult novel; there’s a teenaged girl named Freddy whose parents get divorced, she has a younger sister she protects and they acquire a stepbrother she resents, and she has friend trouble as she begins high school. Then some odd people move in next door, an unpredictable woman who goes by the name of Cuerva Lachance and a 14-year-old boy named Josiah. The first third of the novel comes to an end when Josiah and Freddy walk out the back door of his house and into the past.

Suddenly we’ve been dumped into what feels like a different book. Freddy and Josiah travel in time together for the middle third of the novel, and we find out more about who they are. At the first place they land, “in a Scandinavian forest twelve hundred years before the date of her birth,” Freddy finds out that Cuerva Lachance is called Loki and Josiah looks exactly like Heimdallr. They have no control over their time jumps, but they keep being called to places where the one who follows the rules, Josiah, and the one who makes impossible things happen, Cuerva Lachance, meet up with a human they call “Three” who has to choose between them, deciding whether rules or impossibilities will be in the ascendant during that time period.

Freddy and Josiah even go to the future, where life is “a series of pointless battles in an ancient, crumbling cityscape.” A turning point comes in the past when Freddy witnesses a storyteller named Mika telling a story that sounds like it might be the origin story for Josiah and Cuerva Lachance. Then, one time jump later, they knock on the door of a Three who turns out to be Samuel Coleridge and Josiah tells the housekeeper they’re from Porlock:
“Mr. Coleridge is working and cannot be disturbed” said the woman.
Freddy bobbed her head. “I was told it couldn’t wait, miss,” she said.
Freddy tells Coleridge the story of their travels:
“It wasn’t what they normally did with the Threes. Some of them could handle the idea of time travel, but many couldn’t. Josiah would make up some story: he was generally his own twin brother, and Freddy was his guest. If everybody thought he was a god, Freddy became a god, too. If everybody thought he was foreign, Freddy was from his country. Some of the Threes had seen Cuerva Lachance travel in time, and those ones got an edited version of the truth. None of them got the whole truth, or none of them had until now. She didn’t care. Until now, they had been flitting aimlessly back and forth through time. Josiah said this was because of the rules, but she was tired of following the rules. Whose rules were they, anyway?”

The last third of the novel brings together the seemingly disparate story lines and shows the importance of stories, from myths and flyting to Romantic poetry and finally to modern Dungeons & Dragons games. We find out who the Three is in Freddy’s time. And we see Freddy experience so many impossible things that she starts seeing the world differently:
“When Cuerva Lachance materialized in the bedroom immediately afterwards, Freddy barely twitched. She felt an odd sense of loss. Sure, she had once reasoned away a marble rolling uphill, but at least then she had thought of impossible things as, well, impossible. With Cuerva Lachance, the impossible happened all the time. It made it hard to see anything as fundamentally real.”

The house, which has been fancifully described thoughout, gets out of control, with spider plants and chairs attacking Freddy, who is unmoved:
“’Oh, and now the piano’s going to eat me, too?’ It was creeping through the chairs, crouched on its rollers, like a very bulky tiger hunting in the grass….
Freddy shoved three or four slavering chairs aside and slammed her hands down on the keys of the piano. All she could think of to play was ‘Chopsticks,’ but she played it as vengefully as she could. She could even almost hear it over the roaring of the organ. ‘There,’ Freddy screamed at the piano and the organ and anything or anyone else who may have been listening. ‘You want music? Here’s some music for you. Everybody’s playing music now! Shut up!
The piano looked at her sheepishly without eyes and slunk off into a corner.”

In the end, Josiah finally closes his eyes, signifying that all the rules have been suspended, and both time and reality go wrong, resulting in that most wrong of wrong things, necromancy:
“Now Freddy could remember the funeral going wrong. At the burial, skeletons had danced up out of the graves. Freddy’s mother had clambered from the coffin to join them.”

In order to solve the crisis, Freddy has to figure out how stories and rules work together:
“Wave a circle round him thrice…the man in the poem wasn’t random at all. He was the poet. And he could imagine the hell out of the pleasure-dome, but he also had to be controlled.”
She and her siblings manage to work out their relationship and the fate of the world.

This is a bigger novel than you think it’s going to be when you start, which makes it a good fall book. It’s a book that makes me think about what Bilbo says to his nephew about going out the door: “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”


10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2018 9:02 am

    I’m in the middle of this now, so I skipped most of your description … I’ve just gotten to the first time jump and look forward to something different from the first part of the book. I like the idea of having to figure out how stories and rules fit together.

    • November 5, 2018 9:04 am

      ooh, synchronized reading! I’ll look forward to hearing what you think.

  2. November 5, 2018 9:17 am

    I have most mixed feelings! I do like the sound of this, but I wonder if it’s not too non-linear for my exhausted brain.

    • November 5, 2018 10:00 am

      It’s a really easy read. I’d call it a young adult novel, which it is, except that I think it can appeal to older people too.

  3. November 5, 2018 10:48 am

    My sister loves fantasy but it’s a genre I struggle with for some reason. I’m going to suggest this book to my sister.

    • November 5, 2018 11:43 am

      I hope she likes it! This starts out like the kind of book you often read and write about, but then boy does it go sideways.

  4. November 12, 2018 8:13 am

    Enjoyed reading your review! This book really does end up becoming something bigger than one might expect from the beginning.

    • November 12, 2018 8:19 am

      So much bigger… I like what you say about how it’s like one of those older children’s books by Diana Wynne Jones.

  5. November 18, 2018 2:36 pm

    I enjoyed this book but less than I expected to — someone had compared it to Diana Wynne Jones (which was why I read it), and while I can totally see what they meant, it also set my expectations way too high. So I ended up feeling frustrated with it for not being as emotionally satisfying as I had hoped.

    • November 18, 2018 3:37 pm

      I can see how that could happen. I had no expectations at all, which made everything a lovely surprise.

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