Sixteen-year-old sisters Madeline and Catlin Hayes are moving to a castle in Ballyfrann, hometown of their new stepfather Brian, their new home having a reputation as “the murder palace” as much as the town, Catlin having memorised the names of all the girls who have died in the area down the years, most recently Helen Groarke, just a little older than the twins when she vanished four years ago.
Maddy the sensitive one, seeing meaning and purpose in everything, the history within the mountains leached of gold and silver, the maggots within the dead robin, the harsh looks of their new grandmother, the herbalist Mamó, and her semi-pet raven Bob, Catlin is the magnetic one, the sister to whom everybody grativates, already gathering a circle of friends at their new school and the attention of Lon Delacroix.
An older boy who is always hanging around Catlin and the perfect distraction from homework, Maddy takes an instant dislike to him. With a habit of carrying protection in her pockets, not that such did their father any good, his burned body found in the forest when they were only two, Maddy she might need more than a paper wrap of salt to control Catlin’s hormonal determination to find a Galway boyfriend heedless of her sister’s trepidation.
Ballyfrann an isolated town which is more than it seems, a history of Perfectly Preventable Deaths is not the only secret hidden in the passages beneath the castle, the paths through the forest or in the jars of herbs gathered by Mamó in the new young adult fantasy novel by Deirdre Sullivan, a clash of the modern and the ancient as the girls find themselves adjusting to new circumstances beyond their expectation.
A dead fox found in the woods, a ritual killing which might have been intended to open a doorway, an invitation to something beyond to pass through, Maddy knows that Mamó is the person to turn to as much as she instinctively senses what needs to be done to seal the rift, but does she want to allow herself to become that, to accept the world of magic and witches which killed her father?
For Maddy there are no simple choices, only dilemmas, and with Catlin obsessed with Lon she cannot rely on her sister’s support, nor is Mamó an easy woman to deal with, grudging in her admission that Maddy could possiby be her apprentice while simultaneously making it clear that it is far from an enticing prospect.
Sullivan’s prose a whirl of sensation bombarding Maddy, everything around her is full of meaning which pushes into her awareness, the trees, the leaves, the animals of the forest, the dew, the Moon, the new girl at school, Oona Noone, whose mother is a French artiste, all of it overwhelming to Maddy, already overcautious in her sensitivities.
Maddy’s voice clear despite her confusion and conflict, the characters are better defined than the setting, too similar to other off-the-beaten-track havens of magical creatures, though it can be presumed that Sullivan knows where she is going and that it is likely that these Perfectly Preventable Deaths will not be the last that is heard of Ballyfrann or the Hayes sisters and their new lives in the old country.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths is available now from Hot Key Books