One of the many, many great things about my husband is that he notices when he runs across something he thinks I might like. He pointed me at Linda Medley's Castle Waiting a few years ago, even though it was as far from up his alley as it is possible to be. This is one of the many reasons I love him.
I just realized that I never wrote a review of it. Castle Waiting is kind of a domestic fairy tale. Think of the bramble-choked castle that Sleeping Beauty slept in. Now think of it after she and her sleeping courtiers were awakened by the magic kiss and she rode off into the sunset with her prince. The kingdom around the castle no longer exists. What becomes of this place?
The answer is that it becomes a waystation and comfortable home for people who don't really belong anywhere. Odd folks, wanderers, people who just don't fit in find themselves at home there, and they live happily in relative prosperity. And when a very pregnant Jain is looking for somewhere to settle down away from the complications in her life, Castle Waiting seems like the right place to be.
The story is about as far from fast-paced as it could possibly be. The structure of the story is about day-to-day life--making the seasonal trip to town for supplies, flirting and arguing with your housemates, running around to stop up a leaky roof. There are hints of larger stories--who is the father of Jain's baby? Is the keep really haunted? What's going on politically between the hammerlings and the men?--but the stories that are told are domestic.
I didn't even realize there would be another volume, so when I found out about it, I ran back to reread the first one. I had forgotten how leisurely it was, and how delightful. Most of the content is a Scheherazade-like, stories-within-stories-style format, where the characters tell their histories (including the parts of their histories where other people they've known told their own life stories). We find out about the Order of St. Wilgeforte, the bearded nuns, and travel a world where folks are just as likely to have a donkey or bird head as human. Sister Peace's life story includes the retelling of her old Abbess's life story (complete with a childhood spent in a traveling circus), and the housekeeper tells about being courted by a (relatively short) giant.
Now that I've read volume two--which was just as leisurely as volume one, and mostly about a couple of people switching rooms within the castle, and opening up a more convenient hallway for their use--I'm even more intrigued. And I suspect that, over time, I'm going to find out more about Pindar's father, about the war that seems urgent even if it's far away, and about Rackham's history and how he came to be steward of the castle.
This is not a book for everyone. As I said, it's not about forward movement. In fact, so many of the stories are so happy--little romances, little intrigues, little vindications--that I would almost put this in that rare and most-coveted category that Linden and I discussed many years ago: books where you get to watch good things happen to characters you like. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how it's done.