Darkhenge, by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher, was shortlisted for the Cybils in January of 2008, and the following fall, Sapphique, its sequel, was nominated. I was Cybils panelist in Fantasy Science/Fiction, so even though the books were only available in the UK, I went ahead and ordered them (and then, of course, read them).

Now Incarceron is being released in the US (finally), and it's getting (deservedly) a lot of buzz. I would have to re-read it before reviewing it myself, which might or might not happen, but in the meantime, here's an earlier book of Catherine Fisher's that I just read-Darkhenge (2005, published in the US in 2006 by Greenwillow, upper middle grade/YA, 340pp).*

Rob's little sister Chloe has been in a coma for three months, after falling from her horse. His life has been a fragile veneer of normalcy ever since, underlain by unspeakable waiting. When he's offered a job at a local archaeological excavation (living as he does near Stonehenge, archaeological excavations are a dime a dozen), he hopes that will distract him from his worry. But as the dirt is cleared away, a wooden circle--a dark henge of massive tree trunks-- rises up from below.

It is a gateway to another land, and things are passing through. Taliesin the bard is walking the over world again, still caught in his dark feud with the goddess Ceridwen. And Chloe's spirit has entered this other world, caught by its king, who is taking her deeper and deeper into enchantment, from castle to stranger castle.
"Now this caer is surrounded too. The outer walls were meshed first; then we heard a crash and the gates fell; a great trunk bursting through the glass.

"He caught my hand and made me run with him up the wide stairs, all made of crystal.

"It's no use," I said, breathless. "The trees will get inside. Why are you so afraid of them?" (page 97)
Rob and Taliesin follow her, determined to save her before she has passed too far into the forest. In that strange place, she is moving toward the dark part of her own mind--the jealous resentment and bitterness she has been nursing toward Rob for years. Trapped by her own feelings, the deeper in she goes, the less she wants to be rescued...

Fisher weaves a world that is just resonant as all get out with mythology and magic and Celtic-ness. And it's a good story, made especially magical by the glimpses the reader is given into what Chloe is experiencing (as in the example quoted above). However, once Rob sets off into this other world himself, some of that magic gets lost in the immediacy of the action. And Chloe's resentment doesn't seem quite convincing enough to explain the turn she takes toward the Dark Side. But neither of these two reservations was enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book.

An aside--it's interesting, having read Incarceron, to see Fisher exploring the theme of a strangely mutable and powerful prison in a totally different context.

*A note on the age range: there is no "mature content" here that makes this not suitable for middle grade kids. But it is catalogued as YA, presumably because of the teenaged protagonist, the complex sibling relationship, and the kind of scary confusion of the other world, although, quite frankly, I think that there are many middle grade books that are more scary and confusing, and have more complex relationships. I think it's fine for seventh-graders on up.

This ended up in my book pile after Liz at A Chair A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy mentioned it a few weeks ago--thanks Liz! I liked it.


  1. Thanks for the review. I've enjoyed other books by Catherine Fisher and am going to add this to my list to read. I love your blog by the way, because you review mid-grade as well as YA fantasy books. Thanks.

  2. Thank you! I hope you like Darkhenge!

  3. I'm more then halfway through Incarceron! Thanks for the recommendation I was thinking of looking into other books by Catherine Fisher :)

  4. Loved Incarceron, so I will have to add Darkhenge to my list. Great review.

  5. But it's much less dense than Incarceron, so I hope you aren't dissapointed, Cindy and Tasha, if you do read this one!

  6. I so enjoy Fisher's books! Especially as it can be so hard to find standalone fantasy. She's one of my "I wish more people were reading her!" authors. I had forgotten how dark Darkhenge had gotten, with Chloe's jealousy.

    I managed to beg an arc of Incarceron at ALA Midwinter so look forward to reading that.

  7. I picked this up at the library for M last week, and I couldn't remember where I saw it... (found it in your fantasy roundup!) I may have to read it myself when she's done with it.

  8. I just finished Incarceron. Iwouldn't mind a less dense book :)


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