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Tamsin    by Peter S. Beagle order for
by Peter S. Beagle
Order:  USA  Can
Roc, 2001 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tamsin is a historical urban fantasy in a country setting. It's also a ghost story, a mystery and a romance, though none of these aspects are obvious at the beginning. The tale is told from the point of view of Jenny Gluckstein, a miserable 13 year old New Yorker, uncomfortable in her own body and an outsider at school ... 'When I was really young, if there was one thing I wanted in the world, it was to be invisible.' Jenny has two close friends, to whom she divulges her fears about her imminent move to England, where her musician mother will re-marry. Her closest companion and lifeline is Mr. Cat.

Jenny's new family settles into the dillapidated Stourhead Farm in Dorset. It's plagued with strange smells, noises and accidents, there's a dark window that does not match any interior room, and the Wild Hunt can be heard overhead (wild geese, explains Jenny's stepfather). Then Mr. Cat comes home from quarantine, explores, and courts a green-eyed Persian, a ghost cat ... 'Ghost or no ghost, Mister Cat obviously thought his new girl-friend was the greatest thing since the can-opener.'

Next comes an encounter with a boggart, scary until the onslaught of Mr. Cat - 'To somebody two feet high, Mister Cat has to look like Bagheera the Black Panther on a bad-hair day'. Jenny finds the secret room and meets the Persian's owner, the transparent Tamsin Willoughby who stopped three hundred years before after a flux of the lungs. Tamsin's memories are vague but she is terrified of the Other One. To Tamsin, Jenny is 'a living girl whose world can be only one of my dreams, but whose soul somehow takes my soul by the hand.'

Jenny accompanies Tamsin on long walks around the property and meets the Black Dog who warns of danger, the billy-blind who gives advice, and the untrustworthy shapeshifter Pooka. She learns about the history of the region in Tamsin's day, of her love for a poor musician, of Monmouth's rebellion and the infamous Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes. Jenny discovers that Tamsin needs her help to find out why she is still tied to the Manor and, despite her sullen beginning in this story and ongoing attitude, Jenny is a true friend.

She solves the mystery and takes on both the evil Judge and the Wild Hunt itself - with a little help from the Old Lady of the Elder Tree. The power of the story lies in Beagle's ability to portray a convincing otherworld that touches our own, and a reality in which ghosts can co-exist with those humans attuned to them. Jenny is a marvellous character who comes of age in this tale - tough on the outside but strong, compassionate and vulnerable within - just like the hedgehog Pooka at the end, who tells her 'you will always draw riddles to you, wherever you may be.' I hope this means that we will see more of Jenny Gluckstein.

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