The Parentations

Written by Kate Mayfield
Review by Mary Fisk

The premise of Kate Mayfield’s multi-period historical fantasy, which takes the reader from the 18th century to the present, centres on an Icelandic spring that halts the ageing process of all who drink from it—as long as they maintain small, regular doses thereafter. An “overdose” will, however, kill.

In modern London, the eccentric dress of the Fitzgerald sisters turns no heads in Bohemian Camden Town. Across the river, in now chic Bermondsey, lives the Fowler household, headed by Icelandic-born Clovis, and her husband Finn. The Fitzgeralds and the Fowlers go back a long way—back to the 1830s, when the wealthy, widowed sisters and the criminal Fowlers lived a few streets from each other in Limehouse. The Fowlers are charged with the care of a baby boy from Iceland, and this infant will change all their lives, literally forever, as he carries with him the blessing (or curse) of the spring.

The narrative tumbles through the decades and the centuries, revolving particularly around the opposing characters of the devout and loving Verity and Constance Fitzgerald and the malign force of Clovis Fowler, a woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her ambitions—and who has all the time in the world to do so. For their circle of “immortals”, long life brings self-knowledge, redemption and tragedy.

The omniscient narrative flits from character to character, creating a kaleidoscopic effect that suits the fantastical nature of the story and the hurtling passage of the years. London itself, and the Thames, are also central characters as we watch the city and the river evolve and change through the passage of time.

It is an intriguing novel, with elements of Nordic myth, the Dickensian underworld and Victorian gothic.