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For Fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - an Editorial Review of "Yonder and Far: The Lost Lock"

Author Bio:

Matthew C. ("Matt") Lucas was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and lives there now with his wife and their two sons. He is the author of the epic fantasy novel, The Mountain (Montag Press), the historical fantasy novel, The Lost Lock (Book 1 of Yonder & Far) (Ellysian Press), several short stories, a legal textbook, and numerous bar journal and law review articles. Since 2015, he has served as a judge on a state appellate court.

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Editorial Review:

"Yonder and Far: The Lost Lock" by Matthew C. Lucas is best described as a 'Historical Fantasy'. This presents an immediate problem to the reviewer of how best to present a clear understanding of the book to the reader without falling into the trap of creating simply a narrative and a summary that makes any sense. This is very much the case with this strange, eerie and unsettling work. One is capable of reading large sections of this work without fully comprehending what, in fact, is going on. The flowing style of the language and the gentle elegance of it is beguiling; as with other good examples of the genre, it is not meant to be 'comfortable', quite the opposite. In this Matthew C. Lucas most admirably succeeds. This reviewer was reminded of the epically long "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell" by Susanna Clarke; of strange, and unearthly events and occurrences in a familiar earth bound context. Lucas is markedly good at making the reader feel uneasy without knowing why. This is due to the eerie blend, concocted and distilled with flair, of the familiar and the other worldly.

The main protagonists of the piece are a most unlikely pair indeed! They are John Yonder, a portly and elegant tubby little figure and the tall long-legged and dangerous figure of Captain John Far, a dangerous and sardonic man with a strong affection for strong drink and possessed of truly terrifying psychotic tendencies. From the very offset, even more sinister tendencies and traits are alluded to. We begin, slowly, to understand that these are not, in fact, their true forms. They are paired together in what appears to be a legal practice. The shingle on the door of their apartments on Merchants Row announces "Yonder and Far, Attorneys and Counsellors of Custom". John Yonder is also in possession of a small green book called 'Wherestone's Commentaries on Custom' [a quotation from it is at the head of the beginning of every Chapter]. Yonder refers to this volume constantly; it appears to be some form of 'survival manual' for life in 'Doldrums'. The action opens on November 30th 1798 in the still infant City of Boston in the equally infant United states of America. We are first introduced to John Yonder: "For a chap who looked to be in his fifties [and it must be said, verging into portliness], he moved with a preternatural grace.....he was dressed smartly with a crisp linen shirt and a heavy, slate coloured waistcoat tailored to his frame. His shoes were buckled with silver and carried a generous heel, for John Yonder, esquire was [it must also be said] on the shorter side of most men." We are further informed that he has "sapphire eyes and pearl teeth". Soon after, we meet Captain John Far: "A broad faced, broad-shouldered man in his prime years... he kept his mane of black hair tied into a ponytail, not caring how unfashionable it appeared.''

We become chillingly aware that Yonder and Far are aliens in this young city of Boston. They simply do not belong there! They are not what they seem and their physical appearance is not, in fact, their true form. They are, in fact, trapped exiles banished for some as of yet unspecified crime or action to a foreign 'realm' they call 'Doldrums', whose very air sickens and wearies them. Yonder describes the atmosphere as 'lessening' him and his powers. He is becoming ever weaker. Restraining Far's murderous inclinations on one occasion with some sort of spell, Far addresses his companion thus:

''My dear friend. How can I begin to express the depth of my gratitude to you? Your companionship, your aid, your patient indulgence of my proclivities. For a year you've dwelt with me here. In this realm where a month can seem like a millennium, and with hardly a word of complaint. You've been like an oasis in a desert, a partner in the truest sense of the word.''

With Far momentarily restrained in some kind of trance, Yonder continues and offers a first small explanation:....''.and that for that reason, in all our time in Doldrums, I've not needed to remind you of the courtesy I extended to you when you faced Her Majesty's judgement, of the sacrifice I made on your behalf. That it is solely because of me, and my intervention, that you were banished, and not beheaded. That you are obliged to me for your life.''

The reader is thus provided with at least a partial explanation for what on earth is going on here. Both Yonder and Far are exiles from some other unearthly place altogether. We learn that the one owes a huge debt to the other and that now, banished for some unspecified serious crime, they are desperately seeking a way back from the dreadful 'doldrums' and where the very air harms them, to their proper place, and an existence of comfort and ease, and of wealth and prosperity.

Whatever the nature of the crime or misdemeanour, the creature known as John Yonder is determined to return and escape from Doldrums with his unstable companion, Captain John Far. But how to secure this seemingly impossible task? A possible solution seems to present itself with the arrival, for an agreed appointment at his office, of a very well dressed and elegant lady who calls herself 'Lady Jane Otherly'. She is bone dry, despite having arrived in a torrential downpour, with a bizarre commission for him. This elegant creature seems incredibly old. The reader is not informed as to who she is or where she has come from. She is expecting Yonder's companion to be present, but the bellicose Captain Far is elsewhere, coldly killing and then butchering a man and his second who have challenged him to a duel over a slight in one of Boston's coffee houses. Unlike Yonder, she has the ability to depart this noxious realm of Doldrums whenever she wishes by 'drawing a doorway upon the first oak that she encounters'. She appears rather superior and mocking in her easy ability to return to a place that Yonder cannot, banished as he has been by 'The Queen of the Fae'. The old lady's task for Yonder is to return to him a lock of hair that has been stolen from her by a fellow creature now also marooned in Doldrums; a black musician, a charming' traveller', a mysterious figure called Wylde, who had become very popular at Court and had won her affection, apparently by a promise of marriage. The Lady herself is a high ranking and close contact of the Queen in her Court. Before this man vanished - to somewhere in the realm of Doldrums - she had given him a lock of her hair. Yonder sympathises with her "for placing so much of yourself in the hands of such a rascal." The Lady does not require his sympathies; she requires the return of the lock of her hair. Yonder tells her that he will return it to her within a fortnight. In return he requires her to speak kindly to the Queen of him and Far and win the right to return, that and a bond, a 'retainer', a single strand of her hair. The power and importance of this woman's hair and its value to her is very evident. When next she visits for the purposes of a progress report, Yonder asks her for as second 'retainer', a posy of strange flowers with black petals. She wants the job done before Spring and gives him also a tiny silver bell with which to summon her butler when the job is done. Yonder subsequently crumbles some of these petals into his tea [of which he is inordinately fond]. The infusion seems to give him a renewed energy and strength and restores colour to his pallid features. And now the hunt is on, with the grudging and bad tempered assistance of Captain Far, for the elusive, mysterious and musical "Mr Wylde".

In search of a 'window' or a 'portal' for Mr Wylde [with whom Yonder and Far have already had a very brief, tantalising and murderous encounter] Yonder enlists the aid of a local clairvoyant and fortune teller, Mary Faulkner. Through trickery and the conducting of a strange seance, the essence or spirit, with occasional visions of Wylde seems to possess her and slowly derange her with his music. Further exercises conducted by Yonder to enable her to 'focus' on him are to no avail until Captain Far suggests the use of a map. Yonder produces such an object, a beautiful and archaic thing upon which Mary sees visions. These include the Sea God Neptune striding ashore and driving his trident into the ground. Yonder marks the spot with a pin; a possible location? And so the strange story of their search and quest unfolds in a attracting and compelling narrative that is endearingly elegant and, at times, Archaic style wholly suitable for a fantasy tale:

''From the aft rail, Yonder watched the skyline of the town [Boston] to begin to fade into the gray horizon. The company of barges, sloops and cutters that had previously packed the harbour gradually dissipated, each ship headed off on its own course. A few bands of sunlight broke through the cover of clouds and lit the sea around the ship as she veered south. A hard, brisk wind began to blow out of the north west, and the first cresting waves of the open Atlantic broke against the "Snuffbox's" port side, so that her deck pitched about like a wild horse. A spray of icy droplets hit Yonder like a slap in the face.....'' One can almost taste the salt and hear the mournful sound of the gulls. In their quest for Mr Wylde, Yonder and Far and the hapless Mary Faulkner have embarked on the not-so-good ship 'Snuffbox', a wretched and squalid little schooner with its villainous Captain Grimmette and equally villainous crew. Their destination is Norfolk, Virginia. It is to be hoped that the reader is by now sufficiently intrigued and inspired to continue on the journey with the strange trio, for the story by this point is only half completed. The reader may rest assured that there are plenty more strange incidents and happenings still to come in this truly intriguing and mysterious tale. There follow yet more shocks and mysteries. On board Mary learns more of the true natures of Yonder and Far, there is piracy on the High Seas and more evidence of Far's murderous powers and abilities, and the reader comes to learn more of the mysterious entity that Yonder has frequently alluded to; that of 'Custom'.

In all the travails that then overtake them, Yonder progressively becomes ill and weak, overcome by the effects of the doldrums, losing also the life enhancing petals. They are beset by pirates and only reach land again, near Norfolk, with difficulty where they relentlessly pursue the mysterious traveller Wylde, to whom Mary feels ever closer to, as a result of the seance. Yonder has opened a 'window' to Wylde for her. The final location proves to be a slave plantation where Wylde is 'bound with custom'. It is, in fact, Wylde himself who tells Mary the true story of himself, of Yonder and Far, their true nature and the explanation for their present circumstances. Throughout, the reader finds himself or herself caught up with the urgency of the chase, the vividness with which Lucas describes the motives and the guiding emotions of the characters. Here, for example of one description of the traveller Wylde.

"Wylde burst out with laughter. It was a dazzling ringing sound, gilded with music, like the first birdsong of Spring, and it seemed to float up to the air and catch a cloud that happened to pass overhead..." and again; "He squared his shoulders and flashed a brief, knowing grin at her. It was a grin as salacious as a tomcat returning from his prowl".

The reader is led to a dramatic and surprising ending, and a just resolution of sorts. We have a better, if not full, understanding of the nature of 'Custom' and, most of all, we have been led to a satisfying end to a very satisfying read. ''Yonder and Far'' is a fine book and well worth the long and difficult journey to arrive, regretfully, at the final page.


“Yonder and Far” by Mathew C. Lucas receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award for excellence.



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