Bell Weather by Dennis Mahoney is one of those books where I think I like the idea of the story more than the actual plot. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, it just…wasn’t quite all I wanted from it.
First off, the blurb makes it sound like it’s Tom’s story, uncovering and dealing with the secrets of the mysterious Molly, whom he rescued from drowning as she drifted past the village of Root. Which it is, for the first three chapters. Then it takes a ten chapter trip through Molly’s entire childhood. Then it bounces back and forth for the rest of the book between Tom’s present, Molly’s past, and Molly’s present. This didn’t bother me; in fact, I probably liked the book better for having Molly’s POV, but I feel the need to point it out for those who don’t care for multiple POVs or time jumping.
What the blurb also doesn’t properly emphasize are the fantasy elements of this book. “A world teeming with wonders and oddities.” That’s it. That’s how it describes what is essentially a fantasy colonial world. Can you say underselling? Of the many thousands of fantasy books out there, the worlds in them are generally either medieval fantasy or urban fantasy. I cannot think of a single other colonial fantasy world. I was so excited as it became clearer, but I couldn’t understand why they would not advertise that front and center.
The answer: because it has nothing to do with the story, and you could probably make about three changes (if that many) and the story would fit just as well in a historical colonial setting as it does in this fantasy one. There were multiple cool ideas involved in this setting Mahoney created, like winter that falls in one night, rain showers that wash you in color as much as water, and flying crabs, but I cannot think of one that actually affected plot.
Molly was an interesting character, if a little on the rash side, and the other characters were likable, if not especially remarkable. Mahoney does a good job in setting up the character of Molly’s brother, Nicholas; he’s good enough to Molly to make you want to like him, but calculating and controlling enough to make you uneasy. For me, the big mystery of Molly’s past was whether he was going to end up being a victim or villain; either way, I knew he was the reason Molly ended up in Root.
All in all, I give this one a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, but it fell short of its potential for me, which took some of the enjoyment away.