Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Crow Folk - Mark Stay

The cold I'm afflicted with is hanging on like a snotty limpet (I wish it would go, I'm thoroughly fed up of feeling constantly tired and bunged up - and it's only been just over a week, so how people are coping with long covid is beyond me). Never the less I've dealt with a bowl full of windfall quinces and have a satisfying 13 jars of jelly to find a home for now and haven't fallen entirely behind on my reading.

Work asked me to read something I wouldn't normally go for (contemporary) so I chose Mark Stay's 'The Crow Folk', which I also thought was young adult, although now it's on the shelf it's designated science fiction/fantasy rather than teen. Working out where things should be shelved is one of the hardest parts of working in a bookshop. There's a remarkable number of titles that defy easy categorisation and run the risk of becoming almost impossible to find again once they're buried on what might not be the right shelf.

With 'The Crow Folk' though I feel that the slight ambiguity of where it belongs is in line with the tone of the book which is somewhat uneven. The heroine is a 17 year old girl, Faye, who is just discovering that the mother who died when she was 4 might have been a witch and that she might have inherited her magical abilities.

The basic premise is good - somebody has opened a door, and something nasty has come through it - Pumpkinhead, a minor demon who is bringing the scarecrows to life and setting them on the villagers. Pumpkinhead desperately wants the book Faye's mother wrote for her (apparently something that was entirely forbidden). Meanwhile Faye is struggling to find answers about who and what she is, the war is rumbling on in the background, the other local witches are angry with each other, and there's never anytime to sit down and read. 

The problems begin early on with a silly mistake where elderflower heads for cordial turn into elderberries for a couple of pages - which is it? And what time of year does that make it? Faye reads as somewhat younger than 17, and I would think this was perfect for teens except that some of the jokes about sex landed badly for me - like a much older uncle trying to tell you mildly smutty jokes. I couldn't see the point of them or imagine who was meant to be amused. Her relationship with her father and the rest of the village doesn't really work either in my opinion.

The wartime setting doesn't feel particularly well researched either - I didn't check up on some of the details because by that point I didn't care enough, but it felt off. It's a shame - it's not a bad book, the blurb quote that describes it as a Doctor Who meets Worzel Gummidge is especially accurate. The scarecrows would make excellent Doctor Who monsters and provide some proper chills. I was never a fan of Worzel Gummidge, but if that combination sounds like a winner to you have a look at this. Otherwise probably don't. 


  1. Sorry you are under the weather. We were joking in my office recently that the only good thing about wearing masks for 18 months is that we seem to be avoiding bad colds.

    When I worked in publishing, the editors would present their forthcoming titles each month. We in sales would say, "Where do you want it shelved?" They would invariably say, "At the front of the store!" As you may know, in the chain bookstores, that costs money, so not every title could get that. We would smile patiently and say, "What is the category you want on the spine?" Sometimes they would ask for absurd things that had nothing to do with the book. Ken Follett's agent complained regularly that he wanted KF's nonfiction book shelved with his thrillers where it would sell better. I was sure this guy spent all his time in bookshops reshelving when he thought the staff weren't looking - and I am sure he wasn't alone!

  2. My current issue is with people who keep asking if you have to pay for the books - they genuinely seem to think it's a library. It makes me worry about the ones who don't ask.