Mitchell is a master of nautical atmosphere – having grown up living by the sea myself, I can 100% confirm that she knows how to make the ocean come alive in text. The Bloody Maiden instantly had me comparing it to Jamaica Inn. Imagine if a feminist, orphaned, and morally gray Mary Yellan left Jamaica Inn to join the smugglers; that’s the Bloody Maiden for you.
The book is largely character-driven, following Prudence’s (an orphaned barmaid at a brothel) journey to become a free woman (some may say a fallen woman) as a ruthless pirate. She’s unapologetic and so very feminist that I instantly clicked with her. She longs to escape a life in which she’s smothered by the constraints of her sex. By contrast, her sister-only-in-name, Eleanora, is a prostitute who likes the safety of the brothel where they both live. When Prudence drags Eleanora onto a pirate vessel after a bloody barfight, they become part of the crew. This creates a split between the two sister-friends, and the roles are reversed: suddenly Prudence is happy with life, but Eleanora isn’t.
A lot of the book is centered on their fraying survival-of-the-fittest friendship. Indeed, their friendship was one of my favorite things about the book. When Prudence makes friends with the crew despite her sex, and then later falls in love with the captain of the ship, this friendship is tested further. This is a book for you if you enjoy found family, BUT you must also be able to swallow a lot of tragedy and darkness as that’s part of the genre. Don’t expect roses and candles.
The story has a well-built fantastical slant with folklore and mythical creatures (yell hound/lindworn/sirens/blood magick/witches), but never so much that the world feels far removed from the natural one as we know it. You can say that Mitchell has brought the superstition of sailors alive – literally. That’s what it feels like.
The narrative does touch upon subjects not for the faint of heart, but that’s expected of the genre. It’s explicitly gritty in some places, but not overall too explicit, in my opinion. Prudence suffers suicidal thoughts at the beginning of the novel, plus an opium addiction. Although not at the forefront of the plot, LGBTQ-rep is naturally and realistically implemented in the book.
For the longest time I considered commissioning art for my current WIP, The Deathsea Dyer (working title), but I always felt a little too… afraid of it, really. There was something truly daunting about seeing my characters be brought to life by other people on a visual level. Likewise there was something truly daunting about the process itself. The choosing of an artist, the working relationship and the payment process etc. Oh, and let’s not forget that I’m absolutely horrible at faceclaims for my characters. I had so much trouble finding reference pictures for the artists to work with, but in the end I’m happy I settled on the ones that I did.
I’m happy to say that I’ve finally conquered all of those fears – I HAVE ART!
I compiled a list on twitter of artists whose style I loved. More particularly, I wanted to find an artist with a style that matched the mood and aesthetic of my WIP. In this case, that aesthetic was color and whimsy. A fairytale for adults. Think Brothers Grimm meets Diana Wynne Jones. From my compiled twitter list, the first artist I reached out to was @lacunaorphic1 (ko-fi.com). The two headshots below are the final product of the commission – and I couldn’t be happier, from the very bottom of my heart!
What’s even better is that I have another commission in the works – and I’ll share it with you in due time…
Idah is a con-woman with a double identity and lifelong ambition to empty the king’s pockets.
Prince Eske is a stutterer-turned-polyglot, overlooked by his father until he teams up with Idah to steal a magical artifact.
Last week I visited Nørre Vosborg, a herregård (“manor house”) from the 1300s in West Jutland. I was on a road trip and didn’t mean to go there, but my husband came across a book that accounted for the many myths of Nørre Vosborg, and we promptly decided to spend one of our nights there.
Nørre Vosborg is one of the few manor houses of old that dot the west coast of Denmark. Indeed, it’s one of the few things that dot the rural west coast at all; the flat and barren bleakness of that coast is akin to the English moors, only with sand dunes and the roaring of the violent sea.
Story has it that the Devil himself (who, as you may recall, is a recurring character when it comes to Danish castles and manor houses) once wandered Denmark, generously sowing manor houses. Unfortunately, his sack of seeds punctured somewhere around South Funen, dumping a giant load of manor houses in that region, so when finally he got up to West Jutland, he had precious few castles and manor houses left. Nørre Vosborg is one of them.
Let’s see what Nørre Vosborg has to offer…
The Contractor’s Curse
The original manor house was a farm built on a meadow at the banks of Nissum fjord, although it was rebuilt farther inland in 1532 after a violent storm surge. Word has is that when Nørre Vosborg was originally built in the 1300s, the owner and knight, Niels Bugge, doubted the skill of his contractor. As the contractor rode away from the farm/manor house, believing a job well done, Niels Bugge sent a vassal after him, ordering the vassal to tell the contractor that the tower of the castle was leaning. If the contractor turned around to look at the tower, thus showcasing doubt in his own skill, he was to be beheaded immediately per the order of Niels Bugge – but the contractor did not turn around. Instead, he answered: “Ikke hælder tårnet, thi trofast har jeg bygget det, men sig din Herre, at engang skal der komme en mand fra vest indsvøbt i en blå kappe, og han får vel tårnet til at hælde”. He claimed that a man cloaked in blue would come from the West and make the tower lean. In the end, it was not a man who came, but the blue sea itself. When a violent, westerly storm surge passed in 1532, it flooded the meadows near the fjord, necessitating that Nørre Vosborg be rebuilt farther inland.
Let that be a lesson to trust your contractor.
The Gardener’s Herbs
Continuing with the thread of Niels Bugge, he had spent too much money on the manor house itself, thus resulting in him going easy on the landscaping. When an urtegårdsmand (“herb gardener”) offered to do the landscaping for a sum of money, Niels Bugge turned him away. The gardener promised, however, that if he was hired, he would sow three types of special seeds. These seeds would never waste away, no matter the circumstances, but would prosper forever. Niels Bugge hired him on the spot, unable to justify declining such a prosperous offer. The three seeds were caraway, garlic and red cloves. To this day, they still prosper all over the Vosborg fields. When they die in one place, they quickly flourish in another.
The Black Dog and the Altar Stone
In the 1500s, Skærum Church had an altar stone that was later moved to Nørre Vosborg (and then eventually lost somewhere on the grounds). The altar stone itself is not of much interest. Rather, it’s the ghostly guardian of the altar stone that turns heads: a black dog. The story goes that a Corporal from Svenskekrigene once visited the region. He was a most boastful man, so upon hearing of this guardian dog, he decided to have a look at the dog, bringing his daughter along. When he found the dog, he tried to kick it, but his foot went right through its body. The dog then grew in size, so large that it coiled its snake-like body around the Corporal, choking him. He prayed to God, but the dog did not stop. It was only when his daughter prayed that the dog let go of her father. She was rewarded with a new dress the following morning, appearing mysteriously in her bedchamber, and the Corporal himself went from a most boastful man to a God-fearing one.
The Ghost of Knud Gyldenstjerne
In the immediate years after Knud Gyldenstjerne’s death (1528), nobody dared sleep in Nørre Vosborg for fear of his ghost as it roamed the halls of his old home. A house was built in a nearby field. The inhabitants of the house retreated to this house at the first hint of sunset, leaving Knud free to haunt his home on his own during nighttime. Eventually, two priests and a priest-in-learning were called in to help. The three men set up station in the Knight’s Hall. The two priest lit candles on the table, but the priest-in-learning lit a candle above the door. He also cut three wooden pegs that he squeezed into a crack in the dining table. When the first peg shot loose, he claimed Gyldenstjerne had risen from his grave. When the second peg shot loose, he claimed Gyldenstjerne had reached the bridge over the moat. When the third peg shot loose, the door opened to the Knight’s Hall, revealing Knud’s ghost. The gust of wind that followed his entrance snuffed out the two priests’ candles on the dining table – but not the priest-in-learning’s candle, the one above the door. When Knud could not extinguish its flame, the priest-in-learning could easily abolish him to the swamp.
Such was the power of a correctly placed candle.
The Murderer Henrik Johan de Leth & his Blasphemous Wife
(TW: mild animal abuse)
Henrik Johan de Leth was, as the myths go, the cruelest owner Nørre Vosborg had. Supposedly, he was both a murderer and enjoyed animal cruelty. One of his victims was a young vassal from Kyttrup. After discovering that the silver spoons of the manor house had gone missing, Leth blamed the young vassal. When the spoons were found in the pigsty, Leth still blamed the vassal. He forced him to run in circles, bound to one spot with a rope, while Leth whipped him as punishment. The young vassal died later that same night. When the nearby Ulfborg Church underwent renovations centuries later, the unidentified body of a young boy was found in the Gyldenstjerne chapel (the predecessors to Leth). At the time, it was widely agreed that this boy was the vassal Leth had whipped to death. Supposedly, Leth also killed a gardener of the estate and enjoyed mistreating animals. He would capture dogs, cut off their ears and paws, and have them bleed to death. The ghosts of these dogs can be heard howling at nighttime. When Leth himself died, he did so by falling off a horse that dragged him along the ground (good riddance). He now haunts the manor house alongside his predecessor, Knud Gyldenstjerne. Leth’s wife also haunts the house, although she is an affable ghost. Perhaps because her greatest living crime was to turn the family’s private chapel into a chicken coop?
Frederik VII and the Nørre Vosborg toilet
When Nørre Vosborg was visited by Frederik VII (mid-1800s), the owner was the Tang family. Rumor has it that both the king and Mr. Tang had to visit the restroom at the same time, so they went together. This, of course, meant they ended up doing their private business together. In the middle of the deed, the king realized he could not do his private business alongside a man of no rank. He promptly, while sitting on the toilet, appointed Tang etstatsråd, a Danish/Norwegian honorary title of 3rd rank that allowed daughters access to nunneries and remained valid until 1909.
H. C. Andersen’s Summer Vacation
With all this myth shrouding the manor house it’s no wonder that H. C. Andersen decided to pay Nørre Vosborg a two-week visit during the summer of 1859, documented by his many diary entries. During his visit, he wrote poems, engaged in ornate paper cutting, and fantasied about the ghosts that haunted the place. He slept in the private chapel of the house, which had been refurbished for this purpose. Using a wordplay in Danish, he claimed in his diary that ”en hvid Dame viser sig på dette Sted, men hun har ikke besøgt mig; hun ved vel, at jeg lider spøg, men ikke Spøgeri.” (“a white lady rests here, but she has not visited me: she must know I like fun, but not hauntings”).
A parasol that H. C. Andersen used to shield himself from the violent winds of the west coast still remains at Nørre Vosborg, as does some of his paper cuttings.