Artist Laura Matthews finds her new home in the Welsh mountains to be a place so charged with tales and legends that she is able to reach through the gossamer-fine veil that separates her own world from that of myth and fable.
She and her husband Dan have given up their city life and moved to Blaencwm, an ancient longhouse high in the hills. Here she hopes that the wild beauty will inspire her to produce her best art and will give her the baby they have longed for. But this high valley is also home to others, such as Rhys the charismatic loner who pursues Laura with fervor. And Anwen, the wise old woman from the neighboring farm who seems to know so much but talks in riddles. And then there is Merlin.
Lamp Black, Wolf Grey tells both Laura's story and Merlin's. For once he too walked these hills, with his faithful grey wolf at his heel. It was here he fell in love with Megan, nurse-maid to the children of the hated local noble, Lord Geraint. Merlin was young, at the start of his renowned career as a magician, but when he refuses to help Lord Geraint it is Megan who may pay the price.
From New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston, Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is an enchanting tale of love and magic featuring her signature blend of gorgeous writing, an intriguing historical backdrop, and a relatable heroine that readers are sure to fall in love with.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
PAULA BACKSTON is the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter and The Little Shop of Found Things, among others. Before becoming a writer, she was a horse groom, a travel agent, a secretary, a teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone (particularly the goats) is relieved that she's found a job she does properly. When not in her writer’s shed, Paula can be found being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in her vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. She lives in Wales with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Lamp Black, Wolf Grey
By Paula Brackston
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Paula Brackston
All rights reserved.
"And through here, we have the fourth bedroom, again with the exposed beams and rather charming, sloping ceiling." The estate agent pointed as he spoke.
Laura wondered if he thought all viewers needed hand signals as well as endless commentary to fully appreciate a house, or if he were making a special effort because they were from London. She still hadn't forgiven Dan for letting slip the fact they were selling their house in Hackney. She had seen the way the agent rubbed his hands together at the thought of getting commission on the full asking price.
"A small room, but plenty big enough for a nursery." The man was unstoppable.
She could feel Dan looking at her but refused to meet his eyes. Did he think she was going to fall apart every time someone mentioned babies? It was ridiculous.
The agent tried another tack.
"And, yet again, gorgeous views, I think you'll agree."
Laura and Dan stepped toward the little window, both having to stoop to avoid the low beams. Even if Laura had not been tall, she would have had to duck. Dan took her hand and gave it a firm squeeze. She smiled back at him, a practiced, stop-fussing-I'm-fine smile. She gazed out at the seductive vista. The countryside was dressed in its prettiest May garb — everything budding or blooming or bursting out in the exuberance of late spring. For Laura, the landscape at thirteen hundred feet up a Welsh mountain was the perfect mix of reassuringly tamed and excitingly wild. In front of the house were lush, high meadows filled with sheep, the lambs plump from their mother's grass-rich milk. Their creamy little shapes bright and clean against the background of pea green. A stream tumbled down the hillside, disappearing into the dense oak woods at the far end of the fields, the ocher trunks fuzzy with moss. On either side of the narrow valley, the land rose steeply to meet the open mountain on the other side of the fence. Here young bracken was springing up sharp and tough to claim the hills for another season. Beyond, in the distance, more mountains rose and fell as far as the eye could see. Laura undid the latch and pushed open the window. She closed her eyes. A warm sigh of a wind carried the scent of hawthorn blossom from the hedgerow. She breathed in deeply. The breeze moved the wisps of dark hair at the nape of her neck that had escaped being tied back. As they tickled her skin she felt a sharp quiver travel over her scalp. She stood for a moment, eyes still closed, listening to small birds toiling to feed their young, and the far-off mewing of a soaring buzzard.
This is what I'm going to paint, she thought, not just this place, but the essence of this place.
She felt Dan's breath on her ear.
"Go on, admit it, you're in love."
She opened her eyes slowly. His boyish, familiar face wore a knowing grin. She smiled back at him, a genuine, connecting smile this time. The first in a long while.
"This is the place," she said.
"You really want to live here?" he asked, raising a doubting eyebrow at the idea.
"I really want to live here," she said. Then, seeing his reluctance, she took his hand. "Please?" she said quietly. "I need to try this."
Dan hesitated, then sighed and shrugged. He nodded toward the fidgeting estate agent, "Come on, then," he whispered. "Let's make his day."
Laura was about to step away from the window when a movement outside caught her eye. She squinted against the light, down into the far corner of the meadows. A figure — a man — was striding toward the woods. He was tall, dressed in dark clothing, and carried a heavy stick which he pushed hard to the ground with each step. He walked purposefully, head down, intent on his destination, and beside him loped a shaggy grey dog.
"Laura?" Dan touched her arm. "Are we going to do this thing?"
She turned to look at him, nodding decisively, "Yes," she said. "Let's."
As she moved from the window she glanced back, but the walker had vanished into the dense woodland.
* * *
Three months later, sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of her London home, the chaos of last-minute packing around her, Laura was doing her best to stay calm as she swaddled yet another wineglass in bubble wrap. Despite a ruthless purge of all cupboards and several trips, laden, to the local Red Cross shop, she remained overwhelmed by the endlessness of the packing. She sighed. Sorting and organizing and efficient planning were not her strong points. She had always known the major part of the move would fall to her, and it niggled her that Dan would have done a better job of it. But he couldn't possibly take time off. She frowned as she thought of him now, happily ensconced in the Blue Boar with his work cronies, enjoying his habitual Friday-night wind down. It was just typical of him to have worked up until the last minute, and yet not be here now to lend a hand. The moving van was due early the next morning and there was still a daunting amount to do. Her shoulders sagged as she gazed at the mess that had been their living room. To make matters worse, she could already hear Daniel berating her for not labeling things properly. Unpacking was going to be equally stressful. Well then, he shouldn't have left it all for her to do. He was the one with the organized mind, the one who liked order and logic and everything in the right place. And he'd have a hangover on moving day. How sensible was that, for heaven's sake? It was as if by carrying on as normal until the actual moment of leaving, he was putting off accepting that they really were going. This was her dream, her idea, her choice. Dan had paid lip service to the plan for weeks before having to declare his true feelings when Laura had started to push property details under his nose at mealtimes. He had admitted, then, that he couldn't imagine living out of London, moving to somewhere remote and rural, starting a new type of life. But Laura had been as persuasive as she knew how. She could work anywhere, and he could take his time finding the right job near their new home, staying in a rented studio flat on weekdays in the meantime. He would get used to the idea; he would surely come to see how much better, more relaxed and less stressful their lives could be. And how that might, just might, give Laura a chance to conceive. And hadn't they tried everything else? Could they really give up without trying this one last thing?
She swore under her breath and picked up another glass. As she leaned forward her hair swung down, wet and heavy. She had found a moment to wash it, and now it hung about her shoulders in glossy black ringlets. It would take hours to dry naturally, but she hadn't the time to deal with it, and in any case, the hair dryer was already nestled in the bottom of a box somewhere.
The telephone rang. Cursing the interruption she searched for the handset, eventually spotting its flashing light peeping out from under a pile of newspapers.
"Hello, Laura, darling. Just thought I'd ring to see how you are." The tension in her mother's voice was unmissable.
"I'm fine, Mum. Just sorting out a few last-minute details." She wedged the phone under her ear and continued to wrap as she spoke. "How was your lunch with Miriam?"
"What? Oh, noisy and fattening. I can't think why she insists we try out a new restaurant every time we meet. Will someone tell me the point of enormous plates when you are given a silly little table? We had to put the cruet on the floor ..."
Laura let her mother chatter on, relieved she had so easily deflected her from talking about the move. She knew Annabel hated the thought of her only daughter leaving London, and she was having to learn to live with niggling guilt at moving so far away from her lone parent. It would have been easier if her mother had been more open in her objections, but she confined herself to the well-placed sharp observation. To this she added a near-constant expression of hurt and quiet insistence that she would get used to the idea. In time. Laura closed the box of glasses and walked over to the mantelpiece. The room was clear of breakables now, save for a heavy vase and a photo in a silver frame. She picked up the picture and gazed at it. Younger, happier versions of herself and Dan beamed back at her. She remembered it had been taken just before they had started trying for a baby. Before they had realized there was a problem. Before her heart had been broken.
"Laura? Laura, are you still there?"
"Yes, Mum, I'm here. Look, I'd better go. There's still a bit to do. I'll ring you before we leave, OK?"
Even after she had hung up, the sadness in her mother's voice as she said good-bye lingered. Laura bit her lip and closed her eyes. Were they doing the right thing? Giving up everything they knew, everything comforting and familiar, to chase some flimsy notion that a more peaceful, rural environment might just convince her stubborn body that it was safe to make a baby? Non-Specific Infertility. With those few words the doctor had finally shrugged, sighed, apologized, and sent her away. It seemed a cruel trick of nature to condemn her to childlessness with something so vague. Of course, they had tried every possible remedy, from crackpot diets, through medication, meditation, homeopathy, and psychotherapy, to the emotional trauma of IVF. As wide and varied a course of treatments as it was possible to have, all with one thing in common: They hadn't worked. Laura found a space in a box for the photo and was brushing away an infuriating tear when the doorbell rang. She had never been more pleased to see Steph. Steph, whom she had known since she was five years old. Steph, whom she had shared digs with at University. Steph, who had supported her so stoically over the past, long, barren eight years.
"Thought you might be in need of this by now." Steph waved a bottle of champagne under Laura's nose as she stepped into the hall.
"I always said you had a spooky talent for mind reading." She led the way back into the sitting room and unpacked two of the wineglasses she had just wrapped. "Don't ask me to find a champagne flute, unless you want to see a grown woman cry."
"I can slum it, for a good cause." Steph kicked off her sandals, ran a hand through her choppy magenta hair, and curled up on the leather sofa.
Laura popped the cork and poured the drinks, handing a glass to her friend.
"Most people would rush round and offer to help pack at a time like this, not come here and get me sozzled with the job half done."
"As if you'd care about a bit of muddle, Laura Matthews. I'm surprised you're here, actually. I felt certain you'd still be fiddling about in your studio — you never know what day it is."
"I resent 'fiddling about.' Mmm, half decent bubbly. I'll have you know the studio was packed up, done, and dusted ten days ago."
"You mean to say you haven't picked up a paintbrush in all that time? My God, this is the end of life as we know it. First you decide to take to the hills. Next you stop painting so that you can wrap up knickknacks. It'll all end in Laura Ashley, you mark my words. Just as well I came to get one last look at the chic, city you before you go bush."
Laura laughed, reassured to find that even now Steph could rid the room of tension in minutes. Many times her friend's ability to get her to lighten up and not take herself too seriously had just about saved her sanity.
The two drank in companionable silence for a moment until Laura said with a small smile, "I'm going to miss you."
"Now, before you go getting all slushy on me, I have to warn you this is not waterproof mascara. I don't want to be frightening taxi drivers out of their socks on the way home." She took another swig of champagne, then added, "Besides, you won't get a chance to miss anybody. Me, Angus, and the Terrible Two will descend on you with alarming frequency. In fact, you'll probably see more of us than you do now. It's a win-win situation — Angus will be leaping out of bed early to drag the kids up some craggy rock or other, so yours truly can fester under the duvet until noon. Then your Dan can cook us up a full English, or full Welsh, whatever the hell that is. ... I can't wait. Come on, don't hog the booze."
Laura passed her the bottle. Steph topped up both their glasses then looked at her, frowning a little.
"So, you're sure this is the right thing for you both, yes?"
"No. How can I be sure? But it does feel ... worth doing. We need to change something."
"You've had a rough trot these last couple of years, Laura. I only hope this isn't going to prove more difficult than you expect. And you've worked so hard to get the recognition you deserve as an artist. Are you sure you're going to be able to work properly, stay in touch and, in fashion, keep networking and whatever it is you do in your arty circles?"
"Of course. In fact, I expect to be able to raise my prices once I'm a bona fide harum-scarum artist living in the wilds! And besides, Penny is not known as the bossiest artists' agent in Chelsea for nothing. She's invested too much time in me to stop nagging now. She won't let things slide. She's determined I'm going to have a show before Christmas." Laura wished she felt as confident as she sounded. That the move might have an adverse effect on her career was a secret fear she was loath to admit even to herself. She was already missing the thrill of starting a new painting. That suspended moment before beginning, where the image lived in limbo, somewhere between the reality of the subject and the realms of imagination. It was a moment of perfection, which no artwork could ever hope to live up to. All that could be done was to strive to get as near to that early vision as possible, and feel blessed if the result came within a hundred miles of it. How long would it be before she could settle enough to produce worthwhile work again? And would being out of the loop of the London art scene cause problems? She refused to be cast down by the thought. She waved her glass at Steph. "And before you ask, I'm already resigned to the fact I won't be able to get a decent latte or watch a good movie or find any clothes I'd want to buy." She smiled. "I'm ready to give it all up for ..."
"For? What, exactly?"
Laura raised her eyebrows and shrugged, not quite able to meet her friend's questioning gaze. "We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?"
* * *
By Three O'clock the following afternoon Laura was weary from driving and on the point of losing her temper with Dan. The loading of the van had taken an age, and Dan had been working at half speed, nursing his inevitable hangover. As she negotiated another roundabout, Laura squinted into the strong summer sun, reminded that they were most definitely heading west. She thanked God and Audi for the car's efficient air-conditioning system. Beside her Dan flapped and crumpled the map as he tried to fold it.
"Dan, if you're not going to be any use at reading that thing for pity's sake put it away. You're driving me mad with it," she told him. "I thought women were supposed to be the ones who couldn't navigate."
"You're the one who wanted to do the driving."
"Because you're the one probably still over the limit, judging by the amount of aspirin you've had to take so far today."
"All right, don't go on. We must be nearly there by now, anyway."
"Oh come on, it's not that bad. Look, we've been through Abergavenny ..."
"Yes, thanks for that. Always wanted to sit in a traffic jam beside an abattoir when there's a cattle market on. Who wants to just sail round the bypass?"
"... and we've done another twenty miles or so. I reckon that puts us about ... here." He stabbed decisively at the map. "Very close to a pub, as it happens."
"Don't even think about it."
"Just my little joke."
Laura changed gear pointedly and overtook a smoking Land Rover. Dan reached out and put a hand on her knee. She took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to be more tolerant. They were doing this because of her, a fact Dan was not above reminding her of with irritating frequency. She wanted him to want it, too, but that would take time. And patience. She was so bewitched by Penlan, so excited at the prospect of settling there, it was hard for her to deal with Dan's lack of enthusiasm. But it was up to her to win him over.
"Never mind," she said with a smile. "We'll soon be in our lovely new home, starting our lovely new life, on this lovely sunny day."
Dan forced a thin smile back.
Excerpted from Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston. Copyright © 2015 Paula Brackston. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read all of Paula Brackston's books, but this is my favorite by far. The story captured me immediately and read it in less than 24 hours. It is an intriguing story, magical, and one you won't want to put down.
While I enjoyed all the historical information and the fun setting, I found this book to be ridiculously predictable. It was kind of a waste if time to bother reading it. Certainly it was a waste of money to buy it. What in the world is going on with this author? Stephanie Clanahan
Title: Lamp Black, Wolf Grey Author: Paula Brackston Genre: Urban-Fantasy Format: Paperback Pages: 318 Rating: 4.5/5 Setting: Wales Main Characters: Laura, Dan, Megan, Merlin Main Supporting Characters: Rhys, Anwen Summary: Present: Laura and Dan move to Wales to get away from the city life because that is what Laura wants. Dan is still working in London so he spends the week there and is only home on the weekends. Strange things start to happen to Laura while he is gone. Past: In the same area that Laura and Dan move to is where Merlin meets Megan and they fall in love. Thoughts: I won an ARC of this book a while ago from a GoodReads giveaway, I'm not sure why it took me so long to read it and I'm so mad at myself for not reading it sooner. Talk about getting sucked in! It was unpredictable, what I thought was going to happen wasn't even close to what did happen. I LOVE that! The story flips back and forth between the present and the past which gives the reader more detail about Merlin and Megan but gives nothing away with Laura, Dan, Rhys and Merlin. You'll have to read it, I'm giving nothing away! Other than I really liked how Ms. Brackston wrote about legends and how they are still alive. That was really interesting and different. Kudos to you!
This was my first novel by Paula Brackston. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'm a big fan of magical realism in literature though, so I figured I would give it a shot. I was expecting Lamp Black, Wolf Grey to be a quirky romantic story set in a modern world where magic just happens to be real. It's not that. Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is a strange, emotional, combination of historical and modern novel. It's not a heavy read. I was able to read the entire thing in just over 3 hours. I didn't get very emotionally involved in the story or with the characters; but I was entertained. There are actually two stories being told in Lamp Black, Wolf Grey. Laura's story is set in the present and Megan's story is set in the past. I actually didn't like the strange combination. I would have preferred it if the novel had either all been set in the present or all in the past. The combination of both caused neither storyline to ever be fully fleshed out and thus I felt that the novel was lacking. Thus said, if you are looking for a quick read, I say go ahead and read Lamp Black, Wolf Grey; you will be entertained. Visit BookGirlsBookNookBlog for more in depth reviews and recommendations.
Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is a blend of gothic, romance, time-travel, and mystery. Laura is a character of current day whose life becomes intertwined with that of a 13th century young woman named Megan. Merlin of King Arthur's era also is a prominent character in this novel. Set in an ancient croft in the mountains of Wales, the atmospheric, almost haunting tone with plenty of secrets, permeates each page. The author writes in a compelling way striking a good balance between description and pace. She skilfully evokes the mystical history of Wales as a backdrop for a tale filled with passion that does not shy away from a bit of violence and gore. For readers who like elements of fantasy weaved into their historical fiction, this one should definitely satisfy. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It should come as no surprise that the main character in Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is a painter; Brackston herself is an amazing painter, though she uses words instead of pigments. Her descriptions of the Welsh countryside are even more enchanting through the eyes of Laura Matthews, who sees an amazing array of color denied to most—and even has names for them. I don’t believe I have the sensitivity to identify Naples yellow, alizarin crimson, French Ultramarine, or Rose Madder from other similar colors; but using the language of paint makes me imagine a world of rich, vibrant color that I will probably never experience otherwise. There are two parallel story lines in Lamp Black, Wolf Grey--that of Laura and Dave Matthews in the modern time and of Megan and Merlin in history. Both Laura and Megan are trapped by their decisions and desires, which put not only themselves in danger, but those they love as well. I always struggle with picking a genre for Brackston’s books. The two I have read are part historical fiction, part fantasy, part modern woman’s fiction, part ghost story, part romance; but yet not completely any one of these. Whatever you want to call them, they are magical and beautiful and I can’t get enough of them. Copy provided by author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. Review courtesy of onebooktwo.com | one book, two reviews.
Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is an interesting book with a very intriguing Welsh setting. There are two storylines, a historical one and a contemporary one. The main character in the contemporary setting, Laura, is likable, yet flawed. I enjoyed things about both storylines, but there were also aspects that I didn't find appealing. I didn't like Laura's relationship with Rhys, but I did like the writing style and the way that Brackston tells a story. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC in return for an honest review.
Paula Brackston once again lets her creative juices flow in the wild rustic countryside of her mystical homeland producing a heartbreaking story of beginnings and endings, ancient legend and myth mixed with a contemporary tale. Her characters both corporeal and fabled are impressive in their complexities and completeness. Her heroine is fallibly human so much so at times readers might want to shake her and her brush with fantasy is utterly convincing. Her co-stars are charming, mystical and scary. Her narrative is eloquent precise and foreboding, and illuminate her innate storytelling genius. Her cunning plot twist is nail-bitingly wonderful. Paula has taken me on some wondrous journeys both past and present and I’m ready for where she takes me next! Centuries ago in the Welsh countryside lived star-crossed lovers whose lives shone for one short summer. Megan was a beauty who lived on a farm called Penlan, employed by a wicked nobleman who evilly sought the magical gifts of her lover Merlin. Looking for a fresh start and hoping to fulfill the fervent wish of parenthood, artist Laura Matthews convinces her husband that trading in the hustle and bustle of London for the quiet, quaint wilds of the Welsh countryside and an ancient home named Penlan will be just what they need. Instead of solace and inspiration Laura finds herself experiencing shameful longings and mysterious unexplained occurrences. Perhaps living in a centuries old house in a remote area rich in lore and mystery she’s feeling some essences from the past, perhaps her imagination is running wild with tales of Merlin the Magician having lived nearby in his pre Arthur days, or maybe she’s just losing her mind.