What is an epic? When I think of “epics,” I think of kingdoms, knights and warriors. I think of castles and magical caves. I think of a fictional place from a long time ago in a place far away. I think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. All that said; let me move on to the book under review. There’s something about C.M. Saunder’s novel Sker House that has me classifying it as an epic and yet, it has none of the aforementioned items. I need some help. Let me consult the ever-reliable online dictionary of Merriam-Webster.
Yes! The dictionary came through like a charm! It gave me a definition I can use:
Extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size and scope.
The definition fits. Sker House is a rich tale goes beyond the ordinary.
It’s not that it’s a long book (amazon has it a 299 electronic pages). There’s just so much packed into this tale. And nothing is crammed in hastily. Saunders gives the characters the necessary space to grow. As he giveth unto the characters, so doth he giveth to the plot (how do you like my Shakespeare impression?), which thickens into a filling story capable of satisfying any reader’s hunger for intrigue. Take for instance, the house at the center of the story – Sker House, which is a seaside inn located in South Wales. The inn and its surrounding property are not content to toss a mere ghost or two at the reader. The book has multiple hauntings and ghosts, including the mysterious Maid of Sker and the creepy shadow people. Then there are the strange ghost lights from ships of another day. Readers will encounter hidden passages, secret gardens, mysterious scribblings, possessions of the body, and unexplainable power outages.
Any good house haunting tale, especially one of epic proportions, is in need of a telling backstory. Saunders explores the history of Sker House from multiple avenues, including the firsthand tales from a strange old codger, the revealing dreams that manifest in the sleep of the protagonists, and the image provoking photo of doomed seamen.
A strong sense of place is important to epics. Although this is not a story from a time long ago in a place far away, the author does take a foreign setting (foreign to me here in the U.S.) and make it relatable. By and large, this is accomplished through the richness of the characters with all their prides, prejudices and patterns of speech specific to this locality. Saunders seems confident describing the mannerisms of his characters. The same is true concerning descriptions of the terrain and geography. He uses his knowledge of local history and legends, borrowing loosely from these stories. But in the end, his tale is his own.
(Read about the original Maid of Sker and the real Sker House. Picture above is the original house, taken from this site)
Here’s a little more about these colorful characters. They include Dale and Lucy, two young and adventurous journalist-wannabes who stay at the nearly abandoned inn because they wish to learn more about the ghostly legends that are associated with Sker House in the hopes of publishing an article concerning such accounts. There is the landlord/proprietor of the Inn – Machen – a suspicious curmudgeon who is both goodhearted and endearing at the same time. Then there’s Old Rolly, Sker House’s only resident. He is a quiet and mysterious man who sits at bar of the inn day after day. Even background characters such as Ruth and Izzy, the mother and daughter maid team of Sker House, are well-rounded and personable.
The only failings that I came across have to do with some of the specifics within the wide breadth of material. At times I felt the author had too much on his plate and therefore neglected to fully explain certain happenings or resolve particular issues. I don’t want to identify these exact moments for fear of giving away too many spoilers. But if you read this book (and you should!) perhaps you will notice them as well. Despite this criticism, I admire the epic quality of this work – very much so. So a few details are sacrificed in the creation of the larger picture. The point is that the larger picture fairs well. Therefore, I strongly recommend this book