Book review

Cold Tom by Sally Prue (2001)

Have you heard of Tam Lin?

He's a traditional fairy tale character. He was a mortal man who was seduced by an elven queen and spent seven years living with the elves. He was rescued by a mortal woman, who used the power of her love to overcome the spells of the elven queen.

Now, during those seven years that he dwelt with the elves, how many offspring do you suppose he sired? And what would they be like?

Meet Cold Tom.

He's an elf. He supposes he's an elf. He lives on the common with his tribe, hemmed in on all sides by humankind - the tribe call them demons. But elves are a fearsome species:

Each of the tribe sat alone, gorging, splashed by the moonlight of the chilly night. Sia, reclining on the grass, was licking a trickle of blood from her arm. She was very, very beautiful, and she had calved Tom. That was strange, because Tom was slow, and his voice was ugly. Sia had told him so.
A stag lay among the Tribe. Its belly was split from throat to vent and it steamed, new-dead, into the air. Tom's mouth watered. He slid a foot forward into the moonlight. Every one of the Tribe saw him, but they were feeding and had no time for anything else. Tom sidled cautiously up to the body of the stag. The liver was the lowliest part of the carcass, fit only to be left for the flies - but Tom's teeth were blunt, and he hadn't grown his fangs yet. He drew his knife.
Tom ate, very quiet and still, crouched in the shadow of the stag's body.

But why haven't Tom's fangs grown yet? And why has he got an ugly voice? And why, when he is on lookout duty, does he fail to notice the approach of a blundering group of demons, up on the common, thereby endangering the whole Tribe? Is his eyesight and hearing failing?

There were three of them Demons. Not especially large, these ones, but heavy, hot, gross - blaring at each other with ugly voices.

The Tribe do not tolerate weakness. Tom flees for his life, and finds himself roaming through the foul demon streets. He needs shelter and food. He hides in Anna's garden shed. But Anna hides in that shed too, from her difficult family.

Anna, bless her, is ready and willing to befriend Tom, whatever he is. But Tom must overcome his natural revulsion of demons, and he must begin to understand them. Moreover, he must come to terms with himself, whoever he is, and find his own place in the world,

This is a fantastical book, beautifully written. Earnestly recommended.

What can I read next?

Sally Prue writes lovely, thoughtful books. If you enjoy Cold Tom have a look at these:

If you are not familiar with David Almond, you might enjoy any of his titles:

If you enjoy having a poke round mysterious otherworlds, you might be interested in this one by Jonathan Stroud:

Or you could look at this one by Kate Thompson:

Kevin Crossley-Holland has created a historical trilogy, so beautifully written it is almost poetry, which is a similar captivating glance into a different world:

I know it's completely different, but I have to mention Eoin Colfer's book. It's obviously a comedy, but I think his view of fairies is rather similar to Sally Prue's vision. When you feel like a laugh, have a look at this one:

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