Liz Williams, Comet Weather

Comet Weather scooped me up and ran away with me. I was up two nights in a row reading it until I was too tired, or I’d reached the end. It’s a meaty read, not a slithering skinny thing, but a proper novel, filled with delight and tension and fascinating things. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have just ordered its sequel, Blackthorn Winter.

Liz Williams has been publishing her novels since the early 2000s; she worked in Kazakhstan for some years; she used to run a witchcraft shop in Glastonbury in the west of England, and she posts incessantly on Facebook. She also wrote an excellent history of British paganism. I like her: I met her at an event as a speaker, she seems to know all the people in the world of British SFF that I do (she of course has been in it for far longer, and far more productively), and I’ve had Comet Weather sitting on my TBR shelf for too long. Gosh I’m glad I’ve read it.

There are four sisters – Bee, Stella, Serena and Luna – who grew up in a rambling Elizabethan house in Somerset up and down whose stairs and corridors the Behenian stars wandered all through their childhood. The stars – sexless, severe, unearthly and beautiful – carry their attributes of herbs and flowers and wear their corresponding semi-precious stones. Spica, Arcturus, Antares, Procyon, Capella and Aphecca seem to be the regulars, but there are others. They’re waiting for their brother, the comet.

Bee runs the house and investigates old book collections. She is in love with Ned Dark, a dead Elizabethan sailor who haunts the orchard and protects her with bees. Stella is a DJ, crashing between lovers, who talks to their astronomer grandfather in the churchyard where he is buried. Serena is a fashion designer in London, increasingly worried about her relationship with minor rock star Ben, the son of a Somerset neighbour, who seems to have taken up with Dana Stare, a malignant and troublingly magical groupie who resembles a polecat and has done things to his mind. Luna travels the roads with Sam in their caravan drawn by two large horses, looking for the sisters’ lost mother Alys, who disappeared some years ago, following the Gypsy Switch. The sisters think that Alys is alive but trapped in a magical alternate England none of them properly understand.

It’s all very well being brought up with magic seeping into your house, but it’s different if you need to know what it’s up to, and how to use it. The sisters are brought together when there is a conjunction of different forces around Apple Day: the arrival of the Stare siblings in the village, insinuating themselves into houses with no good reason, and the arrival of the comet. The trees tell Bee that someone is coming. The bees seem to know already. The stars are clustering on the stairs more than they usually do. There is a terrifying horned apparition outside, and now inside the house. And now Stella is finally home from Ibiza to organise a small local Apple Day celebration for Ben’s mother that seems to need a marquee for Serena’s fahion show and a stage for Ben’s band. And of course a small orchestra playing through the Planets suite.

When the comet arrives, everything changes.

Comet Weather is a great read, and beautifully constructed. Buy it here.

Update: I bought and happily chomped my way through the sequel, Blackthorn Winter (2021). It’s more of the same, possibly longer, and delivers exactly what you want after you’ve finished Comet Weather. This writer knows her readers. Also highly recommended.

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