Book Review – Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain by Amy Jeffs

Book Review

Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain

by Amy Jeffs

Publisher: Andrews McMeel

Pages: 384

Rerelease Date: August 23, 2023


Storyland is a collection of tales about Britain, from its origins to much more recent times. This book started as a collection of illustrations, then became a series of articles for Country Life magazine. Those original illustrations have made it into the book, and what illustrations they are! Striking images of otters and boats and giants hauling rocks make this volume a stunning visual feast. Unsurprising, considering that in the introduction the author explains how her experiments with linocut printing were inspired by illuminated medieval manuscripts. I agree with her summation that the printed illustrations combine the medieval and the modern, bringing a vibrant yet nostalgic energy to the book.

The book is split into four sections which explore tales from or about the beginning, prehistory, antiquity and the Middle Ages. Some stories are hopeful and transformative. Others, like many myths, are heartbreakingly tragic—like Weland the Smith’s tale, a trail of cruel act after cruel act where no one is redeemable.

We see the Goddesses of the land brought to life; Diana of the Romans is vibrant as the deity of the forest and the hunt (pictured on the cover), vivid in both the words and the gorgeous artwork on the page, as she directs Brutus to Albion. We learn of giants, battles, queens, Woden, and so much more.

This book is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to understand just why there are so many contrasting and conflicting myths and tales in Britain, a land populated from its beginning by migrants and invaders. The diversity of culture that’s come to the island’s shores shines from these pages that speak of human and inhuman visitors from Africa, Syria, Rome, and other far-flung realms. There’s even a tale of my home county in “The Naming of the Humber and the Severn”; the River Humber is less than 2 hours’ drive from my home.

I’m unsurprised at the critical acclaim this book has received. Everything from the writing style to the beautiful pseudo-woodcuts is meticulous and beautiful. Readers can drench themselves in the nostalgia of mythology while honing their understanding of the context of these tales.

The author is keen to point out from the outset that this is not “true” history, but a retelling of once popular myths and legends. I love this type of book as it allows you to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself in the tales completely without worrying about accuracy or sources; enjoying the fantasy and a yarn that’s as good now as centuries ago. Having said that, the author does mention and indeed encourage readers to look at the source material. She also points out that while Irish mythology does impact on Britain, it has its own rich and separate tradition which she’s not trying to represent in this volume; a position I respect heartily. Each tale is explained in detail, so readers get both the joy of the fantastic and the thrill of finding out a bit more about the foundations of the story. It’s clear that the author is passionate about medieval studies, but also invested in the romance and tragedy at the heart of these legends.

There are tales in here that I had never heard before, such as the Naming of Albion; a short yet detailed account of disinherited queens becoming masters of their own land, then siring strange giants. Amy Jeffs is excellent at explaining how the stories may have been intended and perceived in the time they were originally shared, such as Albina (Queen of Albion) and her sisters being a warning against giving women too much freedom—but also suggesting how we can reframe that today and see these women as brave, adventurous, and in charge of their own agency.

This book is ideal for lovers of myths and legends, especially with the understanding of where those myths come from and the various ways they change through different retellings. A gorgeous, thoroughly entertaining, and thought-provoking book.

Amy Jeffs is based in Somerset, England. Her PhD in Art History and specialisms in medieval art and culture clearly deeply influence her writing and unique art style. He first book, Storyland became a Times bestseller in January 2022 and one of the magazine’s historical fiction books of the year. It was also shortlisted for Waterstones’ book of the year and won BBC History Magazine and Dail Express’s book of the year awards.

She’s now released a second book, Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain, which has also received critical acclaim. This second volume has a unique audiobook version including songs. There is also a children’s version of Storyland on the way in October 2023, so fans of this evocative writing style and striking art should look out for this or pre-order to avoid missing out.

Find out more about Amy Jeffs’ work on her Instagram.



About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.

Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors,  Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.