I am a few days late, but it has been, as of the first of June, the eighteenth anniversary of Kate Forsyth publishing her first novel, Dragonclaw. I still have my first edition copies on my shelf, collecting dust, but waiting to be read again. I started the series at fifteen, when, in search of something new, I stumbled across Kate Forsyth, and The Witches of Eileanan, and followed that with The Starthorn Tree. I now have most of her books, some signed, most unsigned, but many to be read, to find new worlds.
I can’t remember exactly what it was that drew me to Dragonclaw, I just remember needing something new to read, and stumbling across it in the bookstore, and picking it up. As I was reading it while at school, and it being one of the first large books I had read, it took me some time to make it through, eager to see what would happen to Isabeau and her friends and family. I had to read through six books to find out all the secrets of Eileanan, Isabeau and Iseult, and the persecution that followed them as witches.
The positioning of it in a world that is populated by former Scottish witches, fleeing from the persecution that Kate Forsyth mentions as the inspiration on her website, gives it something extra, a grounding in a real place that has brought a new, fantasyland to life. Though it draws on the folklore of Scotland, it is not set there, unlike The Puzzle Ring, another favourite.
This series was my first introduction into fantasy novels of a different kind, that had witches and mythical beings that populated a land and yet, had to flee persecution. I discovered the series in the same year I discovered Harry Potter, or thereabouts, at least within the same fourteen to fifteen year old time period. At the time, I was unaware The Witches of Eileanan series was written for adults – but nothing in them bothered me, and I was grateful to Kate for providing a glossary of words and names that her readers might not know.
It was Dragonclaw that opened up my world to wanting to read beyond my suggested reading age books. Ever since then, in the fourteen years since I read them, I have tried to challenge myself to read beyond what I was thought or deemed capable of based on my age. I proved naysayers wrong when I completed Dracula and War and Peace, yet still enjoying the books of my childhood. It may have taken me a few years to rediscover Kate and her books, but I have made sure to get as many as I can, and eagerly await her new offering, The Beast’s Garden. I sometimes think if I had not found Dragonclaw when I did, if I would have found her books at all. Perhaps I might have. Perhaps my editions of Eileanan would not be the original covers. There is a beauty in these original covers that the other versions don’t have – though they are lovely too. There will always be something magical about first editions and original cover art that cannot be taken over by new ones. It has a sense of history that the new covers won’t have for a few years, it tells a story of the evolution of the cover designs, and how, because of changing audiences, the covers have been altered, perhaps to attract new attention. But it is still the same story between the covers. And I hope it always will be.