Bertram of Butter Cross - Jeffrey E. Barlough This is the weakest entry so far in Jeffrey Barlough's Western Lights series but that doesn't mean it's not a good read. It's a light-hearted look at the travails of the residents of Market Snailsby in southern Fenshire (not to be confused with the benighted residents of Slopshire) as they try to push a road through haunted Marley Wood. There's little sense of menace (nor does Barlough intend to produce one) and the pleasure in reading is following the author's usual cast of quixotic characters as they discover who the two mysterious children are; what the strange, horse-like creature is; and where the ghostly hunt (which only rides at the full moon) comes from.

Leading the human cast are Jemma Hathaway; her brother Richard; and Ada Henslowe, Jemma's friend. Then there are the Ludlows, Fenshire's vicar and his wife, who take in the young Bertram of the title when he is "rescued." Finally, there's the laird, Hector MacHector, and his gillies, Haggis and Jorkens. Rounding out this cast is host of supporting actors: innkeepers; an eel-man; slodgers; children; and the formidable Mrs. Chugwell, mistress of Ranger, the equally formidable shovel-tusk mammoth who's laying down the aforementioned road.

And these are just the humans. It doesn't become apparent why until the last chapter, but the inhuman residents of Market Snailsby are just as important: Snap & Rosie, the Hathaway's coach dog and riding horse, respectively, and the Hathaway cats, Gerald and Herbert; Clover, Anthony Oldcorn's cat; and Vicar Ludlow's glyptodont (giant, Ice Age armadillo), Miss Hortense.

As I mentioned, there turns out to be little menacing in Marley Wood. If readers expect the horror of The House in the High Wood or the Triametes of Strange Cargo, they'll be disappointed. Here Barlough shows that not every mystery of the Sundered Land hides an ancient evil; sometimes it hides an ancient good. Bertram of Butter Cross is a tale of wish fulfillment - successfully recovering one's lost youth and innocence.

I'd thought at first to recommend this to readers who are already fans of Mr. Barlough but upon reflection this might be a good place for "newbies" to start - it's short (255 pages in my edition), as with all Western Lights books it's a standalone, and it does show off Barlough's strengths of characterization and atmosphere. If pressed, though, The House in the High Wood would still be my first choice.