Hill of the Angels by Sue Mayfield

Religious intolerance, radicalisation, violence and flight: a story of our times you might think. But Hill of the Angels  by Sue Mayfield is set centuries back during the English Civil War.  Full of complicated relationships, family feuds and deeply held beliefs, the novel is told alternately by Grace and Abigail, friends who unwillingly find themselves on opposing sides by association.

Sue Mayfield is a superb storyteller with a gift for creating characters with strong voices. Hill of the Angels is a welcome addition to her all too small collection of novels.  I only wish that she’d write more fiction for teenagers.  I discovered her through I Carried You on Eagle’s Wings, a book that stayed with me for a long time.  And then, many many years later, Voices was one of the longlisted titles for the Carnegie Medal when I was a judge.  It’s a very different book but I loved it just as much – for its strong characters and for the clever way the plot twines round a production of The Tempest.

Voices by Sue Mayfield

I’ve been re-reading books recently.  I shouldn’t be as I have piles of proof copies and new books to get through but some days only an old favourite will do.  One of these (although it’s not so old) is Voices by Sue Mayfield.  I really like Sue’s books and I’ve been reading them for a long time.  The first one I read was I Carried You on Eagles’ Wings about 15 years ago (maybe longer).  But my favourite of all her books is Voices.  It was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal one of the years I was judging and it was fairly close to making the shortlist.  

The novel is set around a production of The Tempest and is about Isabel, who is playing the part of Miranda, and Duncan who lives on the island of  Rimsay (clearly based on Barra) in the Western Isles.  Whilst on holiday in Scotland, Isabel sends a message in a bottle that Duncan finds and they start writing to each other.   It sounds as though it’s a fairly typical teenage boy-meets-girl story but Sue Mayfield’s writing lifts it above that.  As a sea-lover in exile, I particularly love her descriptions of it.  And not just the beauty of it either but its power and danger as well.  I think the dialogue is excellent too.  It’s realistic without being tedious to read.

In fact, I only have one gripe about it.  Duncan, living in the Western Isles, tells Isabel that he’s in the Upper Sixth, studying for A-Levels.  Whilst it is possible that he attends a private school where the English curriculum is followed, it’s not likely.  And to a Scottish reader that jumps off the page and screams.   What was the editor thinking of?!

However, that apart, it’s a good book and I am re-reading it.  Not for the first time, either.  I read the sequel, Poisoned, too but I don’t like it as much because I feel it leaves me hanging.  I think it needs a third book to sort out some of the loose ends and inconclusive bits of plot.  But do read Voices.