Sunday, 3 January 2010

Review: Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

Jake Harker is an outsider, a loser whose nose is always in a horror comic. That is until horror stops being fiction and the Pale Man and his demon Mr Pinch stop Jake on a dark, deserted road. That night, under a tree called the demon's dance, Jake will learn the true meaning of terror...

Oxford University Press, the publisher of Witchfinder, is heralding William Hussey as "the New Master of Dark Fiction", and based on this story I would suggest that the people at OUP really know their stuff and are on to a sure-fire winner with this author. 

Dawn of the Demontide is the first book in a planned trilogy, but it is not just a vehicle for setting the scene for the next two books. In fact, so much happens in this book that I am finding it difficult to write a detailed review without any spoilers. This book has everything a young horror fan could thirst for: a horror-loving hero who is considered unpopular and a loner by his peers; a truly evil villain who thinks nothing of inflicting horrifying punishments on anyone who crosses him, members of his own coven included; ancient rites involving blood sacrifice; deadly mist that could only emanate from the depths of hell; witches and their terrifying familiars; the list goes on and on.

This is William Hussey's first venture into the world of YA fiction but he has honed his craft with two spine-chilling books written for the adult market (under the name Bill Hussey). However, in this transition to writing for a younger audience Mr Hussey has most definitely not felt the need to hold back from writing a very dark and terrifying story. In fact, there are a number of particularly gory moments in this book which lead me to suggest that this is definitely for the 12+ market, especially with Mr Hussey's talent for writing vivid horror scenes that are rich with blood-curdling detail. His other talent is for providing an intricately plotted narrative that twists and turns throughout, keeping the tension levels high and never quite giving the reader enough information to be able to guess just what is going to happen next.

The author certainly knows his subject as well. His passion for "horror stories, folklore and legends" (as stated in the short author biography at the end of the book) shines through in his writing, and also with his nods towards classics of the genre. For example, Jake Harker and Dr Holmwood are very obviously named in tribute to Jonathan Harker and Arthur Holmwood, the co-hunters of Dracula in Bram Stoker's legendary masterpiece, and with its similar tone of dark, brooding menace Dawn of the Demontide is the kind of book that you will struggle to put down. I therefore suggest you start reading it on a bright, sunny morning as you certainly won't be wanting to read it after the sun goes down and the creatures that prowl the dark night are itching to tap on your bedroom window. 

If you are a fan of YA horror then you will find this book a hugely enjoyable read; it is due to be published in March, with the second book in the series, Gallows at Twilight, and the third, The Last Nightfall, due for publication in January 2011 and September 2011 respectively. You can read the first chapter of Dawn of the Demontide at the official Witchfinder website.

(Thank you to the book's editor, Jasmine Richards at OUP, for sending me a copy of this book to review). 

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