The Perfect Book for Autumn, Prove Me Wrong: Comet Weather by Liz Williams

The trees are a flare of colour, the sky is a steadfast blue, the smoky and sweet scents of bonfires and pumpkin spice are in the air — yes, it’s autumn, the best season of them all. I’ve been saving Comet Weather by Liz Williams for just this moment in time, and it was the right call. This is a quintessential autumn book, with elements of coziness, spookiness, and seasonal change all nestled in its pages.

Newcon Press, 2020

Comet Weather is a novel that belongs to the homey branch of contemporary rural fantasy, reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, Peter S. Beagle, and Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series. The story revolves around Mooncote, the English countryside family home of the Fallow sisters: Bee, Stella, Serena, and Luna. Grown women at the start of the story, they are reeling from the disappearance of their mother Alys, and they have all scattered in different directions — Serena to London to design clothes, Stella to Ibiza to DJ, and Luna to travel the old paths of England in search of a different way of life. Only Bee remains at Mooncote, keeping the home fires burning and the apples in the orchard gathered and pressed into cider.

But of course they can only stay away for so long. Each sister finds herself pulled back to her home in the days leading up to the appearance in the sky of a comet, seen only once every few thousand years.

And Mooncote is no ordinary home. Since they can remember, the sisters have seen the ghosts that roam the property, as well as the Behenian star spirits: beautiful and otherworldly beings who glide among them, sometimes speaking and sometimes not. Furthermore, trees talk to the sisters, Bee’s boyfriend is an Elizabethan ghost, and their dead grandfather Abraham manifests as a spark of blue light above his tombstone and carries on the odd conversation.

All of this serves to keep us readers on our toes, but also to immerse us in a world that is enough like ours to be familiar, but magical enough to evoke a sense of wonder and that little prickle along the spine.

Beatrice Fallow was in the orchard, waiting for Dark, when she heard the voice in the tree. It was an evening in early October, with the windfalls scattered among the blown leaves. The orchard smelled of cider and of rot. Above Bee’s head, there were stars in the branches of the apple trees; Orion climbing high to the east with the blue dog at his heels, the bright handle of the Plough. Bee watched the clouds scudding over the rind of the moon, and that was when the voice came from the elder tree.”

Comet Weather

At its heart, this is a story about both sisterhood and stewardship. The Fallow women have inherited a gift and also a responsibility, and the extent to which their service is required is only now becoming apparent — because with Alys gone and the comet on its way, strange, dark forces have begun to encroach on Mooncote. There is a strong and wonderful thread of female solidarity and feminism in the novel; the sisters are strong, independent, and vulnerable all at once, and their relationships read true — not perfect, but rooted in care.

It’s lovely to read a book that blends rural mythology and magic while also talking about things like white privilege, the valorizing of problematic historical figures, the cultural sensitivity of language referring to the Romani people and travellers, and the challenges faced by women who choose not to live within patriarchal norms. Although none of these things are explored in depth, their acknowledgement by the characters and within the narrative makes space for the complexities of contemporary life to exist in a world where magic is real.

These things matter, because the magic in this story is rooted in the past. The history and mythology of the English countryside is in this book’s bones, and we follow the sisters as they traverse lych ways, ley lines, standing stones, sinister barrows, chalk moors, dark forests, and ancient symbols.

Juxtaposed with fashion shows and DJ sets are fragments of other, more ancient realities, shapeshifters, summonings, traps, and danger. It’s a strange and wild mix, and make no mistake — this book goes in some unexpected and weird directions.

I wouldn’t change one bit of it.

Ahead strode the glimmering star. Every so often she turned her head and the diamonds twined into her hair flashed and sparked, as if picking up light from the land. Stella was keeping a sharp eye out for any movement — Alys? — but the land seemed empty, motionless and still. There was no breeze. The sky was a deep, clear green, like that moment after sunset, but as she looked back to the west, a single bright star had become visible, hanging in the heavens like a great lamp. Elsewhere, it would have been Venus, the Evening Star, but here? Stella was not sure.”

— Comet Weather

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