Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary

By Pamela Dean

Pamela Dean used to frequent the rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup with some regularity some time ago, and any number of times she has helped other people with issues with pacing in their work. Which she’s very well equipped to do, since she’s a master in that art herself.

  • Author: Pamela Dean
  • Title: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
  • Pages: 351
  • Published: 1999
  • Publisher: Tor
  • ISBN: 0-312-85970-8

I always think I’ve read more of her work than I do; but it’s really just Tam Lin and now this book. But both books have the same kind of pacing. What you get, basically, is what looks like a a straight and ordinary narrative about a group of people who know their English classics really well — with the occasional carefully placed remark that sends shivers down my spine. I won’t quote the first such remark in Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary, don’t want to spoil the fun.

And then, upon re-reading, the toil of ordinary life seems significant in all its facets, too, but that my just be my pattern matching mind, put into overdrive, returning spurious matches. Or it may have been the author’s intention, or it may have been subconscious work on the part of the author’s mind — whichever way, it does make for concentrated reading.

Of course, the characters in this book are as interesting as in Tam Lin; erudite, intellectual and interesting. A nice bunch of kids, in fact, even if I thought having a token black girl, and her churchy, too, was a little, well, not done. Even if it’s a plot point of sorts. Pamela Dean was perhaps wise in making her focal character an atheist, since she does not seem to be able understand religion very well. Even so, there is a scene that revolves around religious and irreligious people reacting to some supernatural occurrence that reads true to life.

Near the end of the book, the pacing becomes truly masterful. Again, I won’t spoil anything by giving something away, but I cannot resist quoting the London Underground announcer: “mind the gap”. A very satisfying part, this.

The conclusion, by contrast, is a little less satisfying. I’m not entirely surewhy — cannot seem to put the finger on the nub, but there’s something that seems to point to a sequel, and having suddenly add a whole new concept to the world seems to me to need a bit more foreshadowing. Or doing without.