"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Conversations in the Abyss by Michael Brookes

Conversations in the Abyss is a supernatural horror-thriller, and is the second instalment in The Third Path trilogy. It centres on the protagonist - the Deathless Man - who having stolen Lazarus’ gift of immortality has been imprisoned within the walls of a monastery and is continuously burned with an invisible fire. He learns that he is the only one who can prevent the upcoming apocalypse by defeating the Antichrist.

Upon reading this novel, I did not realise that it is part of a trilogy, so at times I felt a little lost, as I had not read the first instalment, The Cult of Me. Abyss feels a lot like a filler novel; not much happens and although it is only 150ish pages long, it feels a bit drawn out. There is a lot of explaining rather than action, which I found disengaging. It starts to get interesting towards the end, but then finishes rather abruptly. 

Having said that, Abyss is very well written; Brookes has an almost poetical writing style which is pleasing to read. The novel is innovative and original, incorporating adaptations of Biblical lore - such as the story of Adam and Eve, angels, God and the garden of Eden - into the narrative, with Brookes’ own spin on things. 

Conversations in the Abyss was not a completely enjoyable read for me. I don’t tend to like overtly supernatural novels though, and I had not read The Cult of Me first. Nonetheless, Brookes’ writing talent is admirable and the Biblical backdrop is inventive and interesting. I would recommend starting at the beginning, and checking out The Cult of Me first, as Abyss is a little bit bland and uneventful as a standalone novel. Fans of supernatural literature, especially those with an interest in angels and demons, should check out this trilogy. 

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dr. Montague, an occult scholar, has rented out Hill House for the summer, with the hope of recording scientific evidence for real ‘hauntings’. To aid him in his experiment, he has invited three guests to stay in the house - Eleanor, Theodora and Luke - who have had previous experience with supernatural phenomena. Despite appearances, The Haunting of Hill House is not simply a bog-standard ghost story; it is a psychological tale of unnerving terror, documenting the fragile mind of an unstable young woman.

The characters featured in Hill House are fantastic; I found the protagonist Eleanor to be the most interesting. She is neurotic and paranoid, and due to her lonely life her mental state is frail. She is a friendless recluse; having spent the last few years caring for her terminally ill mother, she has lost contact with the social world. Theodora, an artist, is the second guest to arrive at Hill House: she is shallow, flamboyant and chatty, with a poisonous, mean side to her. Luke - the heir to the house - is the final guest. 

My favourite aspect of this novel is how beautifully written it is. The opening paragraph is thought to be the greatest opening paragraph in horror literature. I have to agree: it sets a tone of dread and foreboding perfectly and with ease:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for 80 years and might for 80 more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Jackson’s writing is spell-binding, and she effortlessly conjures a spectacularly spooky atmosphere:

[Eleanor’s thoughts upon first seeing Hill House:] She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased, get away from here at once.”

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.”

“This is where they want me to sleep, Eleanor thought incredulously; what nightmares are waiting, shadowed, in those high corners - what breath of mindless fear will drift across my mouth...”

In conclusion, The Haunting of Hill House is an incredibly creepy and brilliant read. It is the most atmospheric and mesmerising novel I have ever read; it is not an inherently scary book but the feelings of unease and dread Jackson creates are astounding. If you’re looking for gore, or for something that will seriously scare the pants off you then Hill House is probably not what you’re looking for. Nonetheless, for those who seek a novel with beautiful writing, an atmosphere of subtle and exquisite creepiness, a horror tale with a strong psychological aspect, complex characters, a powerful ending, and a gradual build up of foreboding and fear then Hill House is the ideal novel.

Rating: 9/10

My other Shirley Jackson reviews:

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a famous children’s story about a young girl named Dorothy and her little dog Toto who are transported to the magical land of Oz after a tornado tears them away from Kansas. Not knowing how to get home, Dorothy seeks the aid of the wizard of Oz, and along her journey meets some colourful characters who have problems of their own they would like the wizard to fix. The Scarecrow would like a brain, the Tin Woodman wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants some courage, so he can become King of the Beasts.

Baum was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland when writing the first instalment of the Oz series, and you can certainly tell. Dorothy in many ways resembles Alice: they are both mysteriously transported to a strange world, meeting odd creatures along their journeys. Dorothy is far less adventurous and curious, though. 

The writing style is simplistic but endearing; Baum paints a beautiful picture of Oz, especially the Emerald City, and its host of entertaining characters, creating a book full of charm with an engaging, fun story.

“Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds.” 

One thing about the book which astonished me was that Judy Garland’s infamous Ruby Red Slippers that she takes from the Wicked Witch are actually silver! Apparently the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of the latest Technicolor technology, so chose red instead. 

The characters are wonderful. My favourite is the Scarecrow; he is such a lovely personality, but he is always so hard on himself, claiming he is stupid because he has no brain:

“It is such an uncomfortable feeling to know one is a fool.”

“‘Anyone would know that’ said Dorothy.
‘Certainly; that is why I know it,’ returned the Scarecrow. ‘If it required brains to figure it out, I never should have said it.’”

“‘How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?’
‘I don’t know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.’”
For a children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a little violent and can perhaps even be described as disturbing. First of all, learning how the Tin Woodman came to be made all of tin is a little gruesome. He used to be a human, working as a wood chopper in the forest of Oz, but the Wicked Witch of the East put a spell on his axe to prevent him marrying the woman he loved, so that each time he used it it would chop off a body part. One by one he replaced each part with tin, until he was completely made out of tin! He is basically a human trapped in a tin body, which I find quite eerie. Then further down the line the Tin Woodman makes a habit of decapitating animals with his axe, and at one point the Scarecrow kills a murder of crows by this vicious method:

“The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him.”

In conclusion, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a fantastic read. Apart from some of the more disturbing qualities, it is what I would call the ideal children’s novel: it has a host of entertaining characters, a mysterious land full of magic and strange creatures (such as flying monkeys and people made out of china), light-hearted humour and gorgeous illustrations. Furthermore, it has a subdued allegorical aspect; a story of friendship, and learning to have more confidence in your abilities - Dorothy’s trio of friends all had what they sought from the wizard right at the beginning of the tale, they just didn’t know it yet.

 Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Death has gone missing, leaving Discworld in complete havoc. Death’s absence means that things which are supposed to die, well, aren’t. This is where the protagonist - Windle Poons - comes in. Due to Death’s mysterious disappearance, he is living as a zombie, unable to truly die, like others who, having completed their allotted time on Discworld, are now left in limbo. All of the extra living folk create a build-up of ‘life force’, producing pure mayhem, bringing trolleys to life and other inanimate objects, as well as causing other more disastrous problems. So where has Death got to? Ironic as it is, he is dying; his life timer is rapidly running low, and he has decided to live out his remaining time working as a corn reaper on a farm.

Reaper Man reads almost like two novels; the narrative switches from Windle Poons’ absurd predicament to Death living out his final days on the farm. Death is a brilliant and ingenious character; as I mentioned in my review of Mort, Death is personified in the Discworld novels, being a skeleton with a scythe, flashing blue eyes and a black, hooded cloak. He is a very amusing character, particularly when it comes to social situations, into which he finds it difficult to integrate himself - my favourite moment so far being him heading out to bars and getting drunk in Mort. There are also the one liners he comes out with, never failing to make me chuckle, such as:

“‘This isn’t some sort of joke, is it?’ he added hopefully.


Pratchett’s writing style is gorgeous. It is a real treat to read, and is full of delightful witticisms and whimsy. Reaper Man is a very light-hearted, funny novel, featuring a humour which is quintessentially British, such as mayflies - which live for only twenty-four hours - reminiscing about the “good old hours”, and how larvae don’t respect their elders, as well as quotes such as:

 “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”

 “‘Why does everyone run towards a blood-curdling scream?’ mumbled the Senior Wrangler. ‘It’s contrary to all sense.’”

Reaper Man is my favourite Discworld novel so far (out of The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Mort). It has a host of comical characters, a beautiful, charming writing style, and a cleverly woven plot full of magic, danger and humour. It is a truly enjoyable novel - being one of those books which will make you smile and laugh, and won’t fail to brighten up your day.

Rating: 9/10

My other Terry Pratchett reviews: