Some problems you can’t solve with magick—and some you can.
After a homophobic pagan group rejected him, Lars Kendall is a solitary heathen on the Northern Path, loyal to the gods of the Norse pantheon. But being on his own sucks. So when he finally meets a mixed group of other queer witches and magick-users, it’s like finding family. If family involved exploring past lives and casting spells.
Rhys Turner quit a stressful job in the City after his high-strung boyfriend of six years walked out. He sold the expensive flat in central London and bought a run-down house out in the suburbs. Never mind that it needs walls knocked down, its garden landscaped, and what the hell is up with that carpet?
With his health failing, Rhys is desperate for a clean slate and a new start. He isn’t ready to fall in love with anybody, least of all the hunky builder who looks like he’s stepped out of a TV show about Vikings—tattoos, long hair, and all. But as strong and loyal as Lars is, he also has a very soft heart, which might be the hardest thing for Rhys to resist.
Fra:There is no doubt in my mind that Voinov’s departure from traditional publishing has heralded a new and very productive period of his writing career. Unconstrained by the demands of a niche market he is now able to deliver a range of diverse queer narratives that are a delight to read.
This is most certainly the case in his latest offering, hopefully the first of many in this series, Lars, Witches of London. Anchored to the London suburban settings, Lars proposes an elegant and delicate take on faith, friendship, belonging and romance in a context similar – IMO – to Magic Realism.
The narrative is tight and free flowing and the themes all intersect to deliver an incredibly interesting story line
Karen: Totally agreed, as a reader I have become increasingly frustrated with many contemporary romances, and this was a breath of fresh air.
Miki: Agreed. Absolutely. His writing is free now from the coercitive impositions of the publishing market and you can feel how happy he is. And we have many examples of it. His books were always a great pleasure to read, different from anything inside the genre.
Karen: I’m going to start by saying that I beta read this book, and I loved it, and I would say that while I share a lot of the feeling in the book about how we are connected to the world and people in it, I don’t share any pagan beliefs. And this didn’t detract in anyway from my enjoyment of the book –
Fra: Indeed Karen, we did have very lengthy and satisfying conversations about the faith/spiritual elements of the story. I thought the faith element and the introduction of a spiritual level and covens in the middle of the British suburbs was actually quite a clever thing to do. It is possibly the setting in which you’d least expect magick and paganism and yet it works incredibly well.
I found the Norse paganism in particular very thought provoking. As an agnostic I have very little time for institutionalised religion but I find spiritualism, especially of the pagan type, satisfying at a philosophical level.
Also Norse Mythology is an old and very well loved interest of mine and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of mundane and mythology in the setting chosen by the author.
Like you I did not find this element to be distracting from the story. In fact I thought that it gave the characters their agency and it was a critical element of the plot construction.
Miki: we had indeed a nice discussion while reading the book. I need to say first that the only reason I started this book without thinking was this author. The things is, I was very skeptical, I had many doubts because I’m an Atheist. Hardcore, to the core, atheist. I fight, contradict, discuss with/against every kind of beliefs, religions, even believers. Anything. So I was a little wary, especially because even if I can make a bit of suspension of disbelief and take the book as a scifi story, I thought that maybe the author wanted the reader to feel like Lars, to finish the book believing in the same things he does.
But that’s not the way this book works. Hey, maybe I’m even more convinced now about my atheism !
Karen: So Miki what made you change your mind about Lars?
Miki: I think is the intensity of my reactions. The part that i enjoyed the most were Lars´s thoughts, his arguments and reasoning not only related to Paganism and Norse Mythology, but also about atheism. I found myself trying to contradict and argue against his ideas, and that was absolutely satisfying and very very entertaining. It was like talking to a dear friend, on a saturday night, with a glass of wine.
For example when he says things like: “…it was worse because Rhys was an atheist and truly believed that humans were upstart apes.” Come on, Lars, you know we don’t really “believe”. Or the conclusion that “atheist who considers faith the opium of masses”. Exactly, Lars, that’s the point. And things like that. I enjoyed that the most.
So the author just wanted to provoke a little, to move the reader a bit , to put us in a position where it was impossible to stay away of the subject in discussion. And that’s fantastic 🙂
Karen : I think it’s fair to say that while we were reading this it sparked off the most discussions we’ve ever had over a book, and I think this reflects the strength not only of the writing, but also on how non preachy the pagan elements of the book are.I think that when a writer is passionate about things it can sometimes be difficult to get the balance right, but I didn’t find that here. Making Rhys an atheist helped in the balance of course but for me it was the normalcy of the setting as well. And I am curious to know if that was the same for you Miki and Fra ?
Miki: Yes. The debate and ideas that flourish regarding beliefs, faith and how it affects everyday decisions is super interesting. But I feel Rhys atheism is not really about the rejection of belief that any deities exist, but more like a consequence of everything that’s happening to him. I feel he could be easily convinced of the contrary if some details of his life could change. So, as an atheist, I didn’t really feel his atheism, but maybe that was on purpose too.
Fra: Firstly yes; we did end up having some of the most satisfying book discussions while reading.
Secondly: I thought that the belief systems explored in the novel did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the story itself.
Lars’s pagan practices had a beauty and delicate feeling to them which felt unobtrusive. Voinov is obviously very close to this subject matter but I never felt as if he was trying to preach or impose his own set of beliefs on the reader.
The suburban setting and Rhys atheism did work very well to counterbalance the spiritual elements.
I thought that the way the Norse Mythology was deployed throughout the book gave it depth but the fact that it was constantly balanced by Rhys atheism and his journey through medical treatment gave it credibility. To Lars’ quests in the spiritual world there is always a corresponding step in the empirical one. Rhys’ illness is not magically resolved. At the same time as Lars’s paganism is well known to the author, Rhys’ illness and the cures available in modern medicine are also well researched.
Because of the parallel nature of this particular narrative arc the reader is encouraged to drawn her own conclusions and either believe that the mystical search in the dream landscape is the key or the bone transplant from a sibling is what make the difference in the end.
Karen : One of things I appreciated about Lars was also the gentleness of the love story, and this added to the balance. While on one hand you have this new group of friends whose beliefs are quite radical, on the other you have the most gentle and romantic of love stories. This is certainly in part due to the nature of Lars himself , but it’s also a clever piece of writing. There were times that I had to remind myself that Lars isn’t actually real
Fra: I agree Karen, the love story which underpins the narrative is gentle and delicate and it does – also in my opinion – adds to the story’s balance. Lars is a calm, rooted, presence and as such he is a very cleverly developed character. He is younger than Rhys, was raised in very unconventional circumstances, he practices paganism and looks like a Viking: it would have been very easy to design a character who was intimidating and imposing. The fact that Lars is unassuming but unfaltering in both his faith and in his support of Rhys breaks the possibility of using cliches in the story development. I appreciate that, no scratch that I actually love it when an author goes for breaking the mould. Let’s face it there are so many cliches’ going around in fiction right now that the breaking of them is rather refreshing altogether.
Miki: I agree. Even if for me the love story is secondary, and that I didn´t relate with Lars paganism or Rhys “false atheism” (LOL), the way each element of the story is written and put together is clever, intelligent and very captivating.
Fra. Friendship and finding your “tribe” are also a central theme to this novel.
Lars’ narrative journey is not only underlined by the romance arc; in fact it starts with Lars joining the Queer Witches group. Alone after leaving his original Pagan group, Lars conveys a need to belong in a very subtle manner. In a way I think the difference between Lars’ original Pagan group and the Queer Witches is the same difference between the institution of the “church” and the more spiritual approach to faith of the early “monastic orders”. In the first Lars is shunned for being queer, in the latter Lars is welcomed and somewhat “recognised” immediately as belonging.
The friendship that develops between the members of the new group felt natural to me and very close to real life in the way sometimes you just “click” with other people as if you have always known them irrespective of a variety of backgrounds and previous experiences.
Moreover the eclectic mix of secondary characters with the rather splendid Julian in the lead will take centre stage in the next installment of the series.
Overall we felt that Lars, Witches of London is a gorgeous book that effortlessly mixes mythology and ordinary daily life in a delicate and elegant manner. It introduces us to a completely parallel reality in the most prosaic of settings, London’s suburbs, and it does so gently, without preaching and without offering any miraculous solutions to the issue of Rhys’ medical condition.
The absolutely stunning cover! It is a rarity to see a cover so beautiful and so very representative of the novel matter itself. In Tiff, Voinov has found a cover artist who can interpret his narrative in a different medium without compromising her artistic endeavors, and it’s a lovely thing to see two creative people who are in tune with each other. The final product is objectively stunning and in this case – totally judge this book by its cover: the quality you see on the outside is well matched by what you will find on the inside.
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