Lost Acre (Rotherweird, 3)
Andrew Caldecott (illustrated by Sasha Laika)
Jo Fletcher Books
25 July 2019 HB, e
2 April 2020 PB
I'm grateful to the publisher for a free advance copy of this book via NetGalley and for inviting me to take part in the blog blast.
So, in this third book we're back in the town of Rotherweird, a place that is very much Gormenghast-on-Thames: a fantasy town with its own history, traditions and proud independence, set among the rolling fields and woods of Southern England and peopled by an amazing collection of egos, eccentrics and barrack-room lawyers. Much of the charm of these books is, for me, the gradual revelation of the town itself - with its aerial walkways, oak-framed buildings, curfew, ban on historical records, Guilds and semi-autocratic Mayor.
Against that background, focussing attention on an actual story might seem a tall order but it's one that Caldecott delivers with gusto, having spun two episodes so far of what is really one continuous narrative and served up with a lot of oomph.
As this is the final part of the trilogy, you might expect me to say you really need to have read the previous parts first. I am sometimes ready to dip into Book 2 or even 3 of a trilogy, but this isn't one that will work for - so if you haven't read Rotherweird and Wyntertide, GO BACK AND DO IT. Indeed even if you have, a reread would be appropriate - while Rotherweird and Wyntertide had a bit of breathing space between them, a little conceptual platform to allow the new reader to acclimatise, here there is no such mercy. Lost Acre picks up pretty much where Wyntertide left off, with a catastrophic election for Mayor of the town, the Guild of Apothecaries bidding for power and the sinister Wynter appearing on the scene.
And with a plethora of characters in motion, outside, inside and under the town (and in Lost Acre itself). Some have experienced loss, some are running, others are baffled by events, or trying to turn them to their own advantage. It's a teeming picture, full of movement and action, but an easy way in it isn't. As a returning reader, I'd recommend you just plunge in and surf the first part of the book, reatuning to the Rotherweird atmosphere, which is here in spades. I'd been a little afraid that the returning Geryon Wynter, or the manner of his return, would be such a shattering experience that the books lost their ambience, with, effectively, a Dark Lord looming over the town. But I needn't have feared - while the tension cranks up to 11 here with the return of the town's most notorious son (but, of course, the history ban means the citizens don't know that) it is a very Rotherweird situation, a matter of the town's Regulations, the manoeuvrings of the Guilds, the rivalry between Rotherweirders and Countrysiders - as well as the myriad schemes, hidden features and tangled relationships that the previous two books have exposed.
So, it doesn't matter too much if you don't follow an allusion to something from Book 1, thrown in as two characters try to work out what's going on. The gist (the Journeyman's Gist, even) is pretty clear. Wynter is trying to reestablish authority - including establishing a very sinister "Rotherweird Defence Force" complete with smart uniforms and armbands - but he isn't wholly in control of events.
We meet the same cast of characters as before (there is a helpful list) and they are still trying to fit the pieces together (remember, some of these people have multiple identities that they're hidden over the years). Vixen Valourhand is still daring and resourceful, Snorkel treacherous, and the Polks ingenious. But there are surprises too: far from being an all-powerful villain, even Wynter isn't sure what is happening (can it be he's really being played?) - and many secrets still lie hidden.
Overall, I enjoyed that this book dips much less into the past than its predecessors. Caldecott has been gradually revealing how the (forbidden) history of the town relates to its present, showing us events in Roman times, in the medieval period and under the Tudors. While there are a few such episodes here the story is set firmly in the present day, which I felt gave it slightly more drive - which is important, as the significance of Rotherweird itself to the wider world and universe, and the threat it embodies, become central.
In summary: an excellent close to this trilogy but don't try to read this as a standalone.
(I'd also commend the illustrations by Sasha Laika - they are moody, allusive and add greatly to the atmosphere).
For more information about the book see the publisher's website here.
You can buy it from your local bookshop - including via Hive Books - or from Blackwell's, Waterstones or Amazon.