The Walrus Mutterer by Mandy Haggith
A Review by Kenny Taylor
Last autumn, author and poet Mandy Haggith wrote in Northwords Now 34 about how an ancient Greek had been part of the inspiration for her current writing and travels. Pytheas of Massalia was an explorer and scientist, who wrote a book about his journeys far, far, north from the Mediterranean. Fragments that survive include one that suggests he made landfall at the latitude of Clachtoll Broch – an Iron Age structure near Mandy’s home in Assynt.
Cue The Walrus Mutterer, published this spring as the first in The Stone Stories trilogy. Pytheas may have been the initial inspiration, but the book’s primary focus is a young woman, Rian, and several other women besides. Taken into slavery from Clachtoll after being staked in a gambling wager, Rian suffers many hardships through the book as she voyages away from Assynt. Not the least of her tormentors and captors is Ussa, a female trader with the heart of a splintered iceberg.
Pytheas features, but despite the plot-shaping implications of some of his actions, seems almost a peripheral character in this first volume. As befits the matriarchal society the book describes, the interplay of powerful women, whether vicious or benign, is to the fore. That, and the strangeness tinged with old magic in the character of the ‘mutterer’ himself, Manigan.
Beyond the opener, where a cast of characters so large as to be dizzying seems to issue from the broch, the way the main characters relate to each other and reveal parts of their stories becomes more and more intriguing. As with all good historical fiction, this is a book which takes some facts about the past and then, through its artistry, makes you feel that past as a living presence. Roll on volume two: I’m itching to find out what happens next.↑