The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School – Kim Newman [Books]

drearcliffAfter Amy Thomsett’s mother finds her floating on the ceiling, Amy is shipped off to Drearcliff Grange, but rather than squash this strange ability out of her, Amy learns more about her abilities, while her and her new found friends are tested in various ways.

They face off against The Hooded Conspiracy, before a new girl arrives at the school, bringing with her a strange new way of doing things.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel, about strange, powerful girls who can do strange, wonderful things in a strange, creepy school. The book reads very much like the old pulp novels, mixed with the great British boarding school novel tradition. The characters are likeable, though a bit numerous, and it was fun to read the clever ways the girls came up with to get themselves out of dire situations.

Newman has a gift for immersing the reader in the time period, as evident in Anno Dracula and Drearcliff, and a solid love for whatever literature he is using as a base for his work. Drearcliff isn’t Hogwarts, Miss Peregrine’s or Xavier’s School. These girls aren’t witches, Peculiars or mutants. Some of them don’t have abilities, but may have other skills. Some just have interesting family backgrounds, but a few, like Amy, are Unusual. In the girls of Drearcliff, Newman has created a brand new batch of teens with abilities, with his own twists. The main core all feel fully fleshed out, though when it came to some of the more background characters, I did find myself losing track of who was who, now and then, especially as a couple of the girls had similar sounding names.

But overall, I really did enjoy this, including the more Lovecraftian aspects filtering in throughout the novel. The novel is set in the 1920s, with the girls using exclamations such as, “Crumpets!” and with that time period in mind, there’s an interesting parallel as the Black Skirts slowly infiltrating the school, mirroring the rise of fascism in Europe.

Some things aren’t as clear as they could be, and some of the characters can get a touch grating, but the clarity feels like a purposeful choice, and Amy Thomsett is enjoyable enough to counter the others.

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is a fun, creepy, enjoyable read, with masterful use of language and a solid sense of place and time. Definitely one for fans of more subtle but fantastical horror, and a good twist on the British school literary novel.

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Publication Updates

So seeing as this blog is supposed to be as much about my writing as it is about other’s, I thought I’d just drop a quick note to confirm my latest publication updates. Details of my short stories can always be found on the About & Publications page, but I know maybe not everyone visits that when they come to the site.

So, since the start of the year, I’ve had three short stories published. Two in anthologies, and one as a digital standalone in Alban Lake’s Infinite Realms bookstore.

January saw the publication of the final Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology, LUST.  The fact this anthology has come to an end makes me feel sad – the WRATH volume was my first ever in print story, Dying of the Light, and I feel really proud of the story itself. Ashworth Manor was in the AVARICE volume, and actually got me the number one spot in the competition run on Scrib to find stories for the anthology. And, finally, in LUST, there’s Nina and the Raging Hormone Buffet. The fact I found a place among a group of talented writers is always a reason to smile, even if there won’t be any more of the series. You can check out LUST on Amazon US here, and the UK site here. The profits for SDS do go to First Book, so please check out any of the seven volumes!

Also realised in January was CURSE OF THE GODS, from Fantasia Divinity. My short story The Most Valuable Possession appeared in their previous anthology, OUT OF YOUR SHADOW, and will be my first paid story. Worshipped, appearing in this anthology, will be my first contributor’s copy. Worshipped shows Aphrodite, trying to navigate a modern world, and the perils that come with it. The Fantasia Divinity site (linked above) is worth checking if you want to get a copy, as they often have discounts.

And lastly, through Alban Lake’s wonderful Infinite Realms bookstore, there’s Night of the Loving Dead, published in February. I had so much fun writing this story, and hopefully that comes through in the fiction. It’s flash, coming in at little under 1000 words, and follows a zombie as he tries to navigate his new living deadness. It’s also a zombie love story. Another great publisher definitely worth checking out, and there’s plenty in the bookstore to keep you entertained.

HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books – SPOILERS!]

hexAs indicated by the title of this post, this post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet read the book (and if you have, I would love your thoughts on this!) then I suggest getting a copy, reading it, then coming back.

FINAL SPOILER WARNING PUPPY!

close up of dog on grass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Glancing over reviews on Goodreads, this book seems to provoke a love/hate reaction. Some feel the book might have sexist tones, and an ‘obsession’ with certain aspects of the female form. But to me, the book was less sexist in itself, than portraying the attitudes of the townsfolk. Grim seems to take a very dim view of women. He goes out of his way to protect the town, to try to make things right, and has clear views of what is right and what is wrong – but he still obsesses over the appearance of women. Personally I don’t think that’s reflective of the author, but of the character. Grim might be good at his job, but clearly living in the same town, unable to leave for any extended period of time, and being forced to watch over the same people day in, day out, with actually very little power, has taken its toll on him. And he’s as dismissive of the men, too.

One argument is that there’s no ‘positive’ female characters, but I think Jocelyn is quite positive. And even if she weren’t, personally, I don’t see any particularly positive male characters, either. Jocelyn definitely comes out much better than Steve who, after Tyler’s death, is so obsessed with it he doesn’t really seem to care about Matt, and thinks bitterly about ‘her son’ still being alive.

Of course, one of the amazing things about books is that everyone takes away something different from different pieces of writing. The actions and thoughts of the characters can be seen as sexist and misogynistic, but I personally feel this was the characters, not the author, though without further works to read, it’s a hard judgement to make.

The book definitely carries a Pet Semetary vibe for me, and a complete Stephen King feel, from the strange small town where odd things happen, to the absolute humanity of the characters. They feel real, and they do things – good and bad – that make sense. They try to protect loved ones, and hurt when they fail.

It’s easy to see early on that Katherine isn’t the real evil in the town. She’s creepy, yes, but that feels like it’s because of the interference by the townsfolk. She’s creepy because they made her creepy. And in a trope any horror fan will recognise (*cough* Mama *cough*), at the end of the day she is a lost mother mourning her children, who ends up – not in the best way – replacing them. The attacks are her self-defence mechanism, and when the town becomes a nightmarish hell hole, it’s less because of Katherine and more mass hysteria.

Overall, if I haven’t made it clear already, Heuvelt has written something which has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. This is the first English translation of one of his novels, and I really hope it’s the first of many.

HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books]

hexI’m actually going to do two posts for this novel, because there’s a fair bit I want to talk about which would contain spoilers. This is the spoiler-free review of HEX, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

In the English language version of HEX, the story takes place in Black Spring, a town situated not too far from New York in the USA. Black Spring seems like a pretty normal town, with normal, small town type characters. The novel mainly focuses on the Grant family – Steve, Jocelyn, Tyler and Matt. As newlyweds, Steve and Jocelyn moved to Black Spring, with no idea what awaited them. Because Black Spring has a secret, known to the townspeople, but kept hidden from Outsiders.

That secret is the witch, Katherine van Wyler.

Katherine has a tragic history – accused of witchcraft, forced to do something horrific, and killed for it. The townspeople believe they are under Katherine’s curse – she wanders through the town, her eyes and mouth sewn shut, appearing in people’s homes and disappearing at will.

Katherine is creepy. Her presence is creepy, and Heuvelt does what any good horror writer should do – he takes what is normal, even if that normality is different for the characters than for us – and twists it. We come to accept Katherine’s presence, but similar to Stephen King’s Derry, there are trails of the curse in the town, in the population. It makes us question whether this is a result of the curse, or if people are just shit.

One of the things I really loved about this book was that the characters, and their problems – even where they involved Katherine – were so damn real. The characters are human, and relatable, from the teenager who just wants to live a normal life, to the father who would do anything for his son, and the woman just trying to protect herself and her son after an abusive relationship.

All the characters are, essentially, trying to make the best out of bad situations. But, well, it’s a horror novel. Things happen that change Katherine’s ‘routine’, and the tension kicks in, rising up until we hit the climax.

Overall, I really liked this book. The setting has been transported from the original setting to the USA, and works really well, allowing the more American elements and history to bleed into the novel. The horror is handled brilliantly, with the tension not just rising from the supernatural, but the more mundane issues of the Black Spring residents, as well.

There are some issues, a few strange moments, but these were easy to overlook amongst the strengths. A really fantastic horror novel, and one I would definitely recommend.

Book VS Film – Bird Box

bird box.pngSomething that can often be said for book to film adaptations, but I think really is worth repeating here – the book explains it better.

For those not aware, Bird Box follows Malorie, as the world becomes a strange, frightening place full of creatures the human mind cannot understand nor comprehend. To combat this, survivors wear blindfolds whenever they are outside their homes. They cover windows, learning not to look.

At the start of the story, Malorie is pregnant, meaning she must not only learn to survive in this scary new world, she has to learn how to raise children in it, as well.

There were a number of…interesting changes made between the book and Netflix’s film. They make sense, in a way, because they probably make for better watching, but whereas I finished the film thinking meh, not that scary, not really invested in any of the characters, I found the book to be a good horror novel, really gripping and definitely with more interesting characters.

There are some…strange changes made between book and film. I’m sure there are valid reasons for some of these, but some of the changes include –

  • Ageing up the characters – this is understandable, and not completely a bad thing, but in the book, Malorie and most of the ‘housemates’ are in their early to mid twenties. To me, this makes a lot of sense – not that women past their thirties wouldn’t have one night stands, but I feel like it’s more likely for Malorie to have one AND get pregnant if she’s younger. That might just be me, but a few of the character’s actions make sense when they’re just that little bit younger.
  • Things move slower. Again, a change that makes sense when transferring from text to film, but the ‘creatures’ don’t just suddenly appear to everyone at once at the same time. They creep in, affecting some people and leaving others untouched, rather than everything going from “oh there’s stuff happening in Russia” to “OMG it’s here panic panic panic.” It’s more gradual, leaving people with more time to prepare.
  • Tom. Ah, Tom. Intelligent, keen to help everyone, very flirty with Malorie. In the book, it’s hard to say she’s in love with him or not (I would think she is), but without a doubt, she admires him, respects him, and he gets her through a lot, whether he’s physically present or not. Tom conducts ‘experiments’, pushes for change, BUT (and here’s the kicker) some of what he does in the film, or that the group does as a whole, is done only by Malorie in the book. She learns to survive, and raise the kids, on her own. The film, to me, took away a lot of that strength given to her in the book.
  • The other housemates. On the whole, the other housemates are pretty decent. Even Don, who triggers some problems in the house, doesn’t do it out malice. The characters are more nuanced than in the film. Including Gary, though he is still a dick.  And those two characters who steal the car? Doesn’t happen in the book. (Though maybe they found they needed an excuse to get rid of MGK?)
  • Mental illness. Okay, I’ve been thinking about this one a fair bit. In the film, the implication is that anyone who is just a little bit off the line of what is considered ‘normal’, would be fair game to the creatures. But in the book, it’s more complicated than that. There is an element of that, but it’s more like people who could be susceptible to that sort of thing anyway can be drawn deeper down the path, like someone who believes man didn’t land on the moon might be more likely to believe the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK. And, well, anyone who lives through an end-of-the-world scenario is going to have mental health problems. Cooped up in a house for so long is going to work on your mind, as well as seeing some of the horrific imagery these characters do, it’s going to trigger depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other issues. I feel like it’s more clear in the book, whereas the film simplified it to the point where anyone with any mental illness ‘might’ worship the creatures, disregarding the fact that anyone living isn’t going to be the same person they were before the creatures arrived.
  • Dogs. If I’m remembering correctly, there are no dogs in the film. The book features three, with one ‘main one’, but considering this is horror novel…maybe it is a good thing they dropped them for the film.

Overall, the book definitely wins out over the film. The film felt like a physiological thriller packaged as horror, and though it was enjoyable, elements of it just felt a little too weak. The book was a gripping, engaging horror novel with stronger characters and less plot-holes.

Book wins.