A Tangle in Slops
by Jeffrey E. Barlough
Review by Mel Jacob
Gresham & Doyle Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780978763428
Date: 02 March 2011 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The sixth and concluding book of Jeffrey Barlough's Western Lights series, A Tangle in Slops, combines a Dickensian countryside in an alternative world. where mastodon-like creatures roam a marshy countryside. Troubles fall upon Orkney Farm after the master discovers a trove that once belonged to an ancestor, the wise woman Tronda Quickensbog, He disappears, apparently a victim of a mylodon, shortly after the discovery.
Dire wolves, short faced bears, marsh devils, spotted lions, and the mylodon threaten inhabitants on occasion. Sundered ages ago from their Norse heritage, the marsh folk mostly fowlers and fishermen, called slodgers, manage to survive. Soon rumors surface of a strange moss covered creature and the mylodon again threatens Orkney Farm.
Relatives of the missing man come to the farm to hear the reading of the will as concerns the disposition of his six-year old daughter, Mary. She believes her father isn't dead and visits her on some nights. No one had had the courage to tell her of his death.
Most of the story is narrated by Watty, an orphan taken in by the missing man. Watty understands animals and can communicate with them.
Magical devices from the mysterious trove have unexpected consequences. One is a 'wishing' pipe and another a spy glass that shows the next day. A strange peddler hangs about seeking something, but no one knows what. Magic and transformation propel actions. While the old shake their heads and gossip, the rector and younger people want answers.
At first, the story moves slowly and Barlough takes time to ground his readers in Slopshire, but not the larger world. The nature of the world may leave those who haven't read the earlier volumes confused as to where the story takes place and when. Its similarity to parts of Victorian Britain and its mores may also bewilder. One has to question whether a society separated by distance and time would develop in a way so similar to that period. The interesting aspects of fantasies and alternate realities are the ways in which the author provides plausible explanations for what differences occur and why, especially the consequences that result--in this, Barlough fails.
Colorful writing, humor, and the overarching mystery of what happened to the master of Orkney Farm draw the reader into the story. Most will solve the mystery well before the novel ends. The book also includes a short story for children by Barlough.