Review: The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell

So, I love this gentle series of contemporary rural fantasy, and the latest, penultimate, instalment is a continuation of all that’s great about it. It’s very personal, centring very closely on its protagonists, and it tells a story of inner threat as much of one about threat from enormous cosmic forces.

Wise woman Judith is losing herself to dementia, just as the magical barriers against otherworldly enemies that she has maintained her whole life have been all but destroyed in Lychford. Her apprentice Autumn is too wrapped up in guilt over this mistake to connect with Judith, seeking instead to fix her. Reverend Lizzie, the third of this ‘coven’ but still unsure of her position in the world of magic, seems hesitant to pressure either of the other two, lest she make things worse. In the midst of this mix of upset and passivity, a dark presence slips into our world and makes a play for the people of Lychford’s affections, by granting small wishes. The sacrifices in this book are signalled early on, but how they play out is not as you’d expect.

This is not an entry level book, you need to get up to speed with the series, but it’s a great reason for me to recommend that you do so. Lychford is quietly reminiscent of Cornell’s Shadow Police books, which I also loved, which make folk horror and myth part of our ongoing lives, rather than dormant evils that sometimes re-emerge. The three women at the heart of these books are so easy to root for and the scope they provide, in unison, to look at so much of our culture in action, makes for a very rich world, despite the slim volumes. It’s light on the tongue, but it’s heavy in the belly.

The Lychford books are very episodic, and I’ll be glad to see a future edition that collects them as a single body; I’m sure they’ll be gobbled up by the box-set audience. But in the meantime, for those of us who are savouring the story as it evolves, this is a real treat.

The final Lychford story, Last Stand in Lychford, comes out in November of this year, so you have plenty of time to catch up with the first four. They’re cheap as chips online if, unlike me, you don’t have to fly international to London in order to grab a signed copy from the same shop where you’ve bought all the previous books.

But, those personal little rituals are how you make magic.

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