She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel Elfland, and reported the following:
Elfland is a contemporary fantasy, the first of my ‘Aetherial Tales’ series for Tor. The title is tongue-in-cheek, because it isn’t strictly about Elfland as such! I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of glamorous creatures who appear human but aren’t; angels, demons, elves, vampires, demi-gods, what you will. My Aetherials (or Aelyr) evolved as my interpretation of such a race.Learn more about the author and her work at Freda Warrington's website and blog.
Their story, rooted in the everyday world, shows the entanglements of two contrasting households; Oakholme, a friendly, beamed house inhabited by a loving family, the Foxes, and Stonegate Manor, the forbidding mansion on the hill containing a broken family, the Wilders.
These particular Aetherials live in an English village where the Great Gates to the Otherworld are concealed. Although they pass for human, they have secrets… that they can wander into other realities, transform into different, disturbing forms… and that the sinister gatekeeper, Lawrence Wilder, has controversially barred the Great Gates, denying them access to their home realms.
At its heart, Elfland is a story about the anguish of unrequited love.
Against this background, Rosie Fox is growing to adulthood and trying to work out who she truly is. Flipping to page 69, I find Rosie, aged 14, at a pivotal moment indeed – trying to initiate tongue-tied conversation with a young god! In the previous chapter, attending a party at Stonegate Manor, she witnesses a secret gathering of Aetherials – including her parents – angrily confronting Lawrence Wilder about his barring of the Gates. While Lawrence defends himself, warning of dark, undefined menace, Rosie is captivated by his son, Jon. She’s fallen in love.
Some days later, as Rosie confides in school-friends, Jon and his brother Sam appear unexpectedly at the school…
Jonathan and Samuel Wilder were prowling across the quad, wary and predatory like two dark panthers unleashed from a cage. They were wearing the school uniform; black trousers and jacket, white shirt, black and silver striped tie. ‘I don’t believe it,’ she said.
Mel laughed. ‘Close your mouth, Ro, you’re drooling icicles.’
Rosie’s teeth began to hurt with the cold. She snapped her mouth shut and accidentally bit her tongue, causing her eyes to fill with water.
The bell sounded and chilled students began to stream towards the school building. Jon and Sam vanished in the flow for a moment. When they reappeared, Sam had moved off with a group of sixth form boys and Jon was on his own, walking straight towards her.
Her pulse quickened. Their eyes met, disengaged, met again. He paused as if not sure what to do. Mel poked her in the hip and the next thing she knew, she was on her feet in front of him.
His long hair was tied back and he looked more beautiful than she remembered; perfect face, dark long-lashed eyes, sensual mouth. Her heartbeat shook her whole body as he approached. She’d thought falling in love would be wonderful; no one had warned her it could be painfully mortifying. Her watering eyes made her nose run, while her mouth was glued shut.
Jon wore a slightly startled, do-I-know-you expression, which she hadn’t expected. This seemed a good moment for a chasm to open beneath her.
‘Hi, I’m Rosie.’
He gave a small frown. ‘Rosie…?’
‘We live down the hill from you.’ Her tongue felt clumsy. ‘We met at the party, do you remember?’
‘Er… yes, you’re really familiar,’ he said, still looking blank.
How could he not remember, when she’d obsessed about him ever since? Her fingers described a muzzle in front of her face. ‘In the fox mask.’
‘Oh yes, yes.’ Light dawned at last. ‘Rosie Fox. Course.’
‘That’s it,’ she laughed in relief. ‘My father knows yours… anyway… I really liked your poem.’
‘I didn’t write it. It was The Song of Amergin.’
‘Er, I know, I meant the way you performed it.’
‘Thanks.’ His gaze drifted away from her – scanning for Sam, she assumed. He wasn’t making this easy at all.
‘I thought you were at boarding school,’ she struggled on. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Uh,’ Jon said, and looked at his feet. ‘We were. Dad decided to take us out and send us here instead.’
‘Oh,’ she said, and thought it extraordinary that Lawrence actually might have listened to her father’s throwaway advice. ‘Do you mind?’
‘I don’t know yet.’ The sweetness of his face and the fall of his hair were playing havoc with her insides. He caught her gaze with those melting brown eyes as if he wanted to confide something vital, and would if she could only win his trust.
‘What subjects do you like best?’
‘Um… English is okay, and biology… I’d better go.’ He started to turn from her, hands in pockets, head down. A sudden small flame of courage lit inside her and, on an impulse, she stepped after him.
‘Jon, could I ask you a favor?’
He stopped, met her eyes again with a wary frown. ‘I suppose so.’
‘Your brother Sam has something of mine.’
‘Ask him,’ she said more confidently. ‘He’ll know what it is. It’s not much, but it’s important to me. Could you get it from him, and bring it round to my house? Please? When you’ve got time.’
He looked perplexed, then gave a quick smile that lit up his face. Her heart sprang like an elated lamb. ‘Yes, okay. No problem. See you later.’
The story moves from adolescent angst to darker, more adult territory, but here we see Rosie on the threshold of womanhood – falling in love for the first time, but is it with the right person? Entangled in the mysteries surrounding Lawrence Wilder, she’s torn between being human and being Aetherial. As a result, she will make a disastrous choice that leads to tragedy…
In a sense, Elfland is a coming-of-age novel, about making mistakes by trying to do things that seem to be expected of you by other people, instead of being true to your authentic self. Almost nothing Rosie believes turns out to be true.
Anyway, if page 69 isn’t your cup of tea, just wait until you get to page 258!
Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.