This book was sent to me by Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
14.05.19 / Horror-Thriller / Titan Books / Paperback / 432pp / 978-1785659959
Target Audience: Readers who like dark, twisted and gory folklore tales with plenty of relevant themes and good/bad/evil characters. For those who like a suspenseful read that grows in intensity until the point of no return and you are in it until the end.
About The Plague Stones
After a brutal break-in leaves her family traumatised, Trish Feenan jumps at the chance of a fresh start in a charming historic community. But in the back garden of her new cottage sits an unsettling reminder of past wrongs: a standing stone, once one of the markers that kept plague sufferers outside the village bounds, its ‘powers’ renewed every year in a ritual that seems to be more than just local oddity.
As the Feenans settle in, they experience unexplained accidents, accompanied by sightings of a girl who vanishes into thin air. Soon, it becomes obvious that there is a reason traditions must not slip, and that all acts of betrayal, even those committed centuries ago, have consequences…
Guest Post: Yes, But Is It Horror? by James Brogden
I have a confession to make: I have a problem with genre. In the summer I’ll be at London Film and Comic Con standing proudly behind my little table of books, and people will stop by and ask “So what kind of books are these, then?” and I’ll gape like a guppy as I struggle to articulate a clear idea of what it is I actually do. Trust me, the irony of this is not lost.
I could say “horror”, but The Narrows is about urban ley-lines and geomantic sorcery. I could say “urban fantasy”, but The Plague Stones has medieval undead peasants with scythes. I could say “literary horror” (not my idea), but The Hollow Tree is a paranormal-historical-murder-mystery-horror-fantasy. I think. I know we shouldn’t really air our dirty laundry in public, but one of the best negative reviews of one of my stories (that’s fit to publish anyway), said of Hekla’s Children “one moment you’re fighting a monster who can possess and take over your body, the next you’re in Middle Earth.”
And? The problem with this is? Remember the bit where Merry gets possessed by a barrow wight and that time when Aragorn led an army of the undead?
The notion of genre is, of course, a very effective tool used by both readers and publishers to establish expectations and a set of commonly agreed, and continuously evolving, criteria by which to evaluate the success of a narrative. The writer walks a tight-rope act on the tension between what they want to put into the story and what other people seem to want out of it. I’ll freely admit that I often wobble, to the consternation of my publishers who are the ones with the unenviable task of deciding how to package and sell something which has a bog mummy, a famine demon, crime procedural detail and glowing swords.
The thing is that I cannot separate fantasy from horror in my head. One of my favourite monsters, from Tourmaline, is the Swarm: a man possessed by a swarm of hornets from a parallel steampunk reality, whose body can fly apart in a cloud of flesh and bone to attack. I count at least three genres right there.
I’ve tried to narrow it down, and have decided that if my stories have anything in common it is two things.
First, the importance of myth. As a teenager I was equally enraptured by the fantasy books of Susan Cooper and the science fiction of Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles, both of which employed tropes of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology either overtly or as subtext. Later I would go on to read Jung and Campbell and understand a bit more of how and why these myths are so potent, but that’s much too big a topic to deal with here. If I can’t pin my story to something mythic, somehow it doesn’t seem real.
Second, the notion that supernatural or paranormal powers and entities derive as much as possible from human antecedents. This isn’t a manifesto so much as a preference; I try to make people the source of what is magical or horrific in my stories. What’s more terrifying than a demon? A demon that used to be human and knows what it has become and hates that more than anything. This is why I like ghosts, because what is a ghost if not the ultimate triumph of human will (or pain) over the limits of the natural world?
But, see, I wobble, and I have to bring my ghosts into the real world and pick up weapons and start killing.
Which brings us to Hester Attlowe. I don’t know whether readers are going to see her as a witch, zombie, corporeal ghost or tragic victim. Any flaws lie squarely with me, in the fuzzy zone between genres where my ideas get together like drunks and smash things up. If you find her story half as compelling as I do, job done.
Anyway, if you’re at Comic Con pop by my table and tell me what you think it is I’m writing.
About James Brogden
James Brogden is the author of The Narrows, Tourmaline and The Realt. His horror and fantasy stories have appeared in anthologies and periodicals ranging from The Big Issue to the British Fantasy Society Award-winning Alchemy Press. He spent many years living in Australia, but now lives in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire with his wife and two daughters.