Saturday, 13 February 2010

Review: Mortlock by Jon Mayhew



The sister is a knife-thrower in a magician’s stage act, the brother an undertaker’s assistant. Neither orphan knows of the other’s existence. Until, that is, three terrible Aunts descend on the girl’s house and imprison her guardian, the Great Cardamom. His dying act is to pass the girl a note with clues to the secret he carries to his grave. Cardamom was one of three explorers on an expedition to locate the legendary Amarant, a plant with power over life and death. Now, pursued by flesh-eating crow-like ghuls, brother and sister must decode the message and save themselves from its sinister legacy. 

I first heard about Mortlock towards the end of last year. The synopsis sounded like just the sort of story that I love and so I was very excited when it arrived in the post from the nice people at Bloomsbury. No standard white or brown padded mailer for this book either - it landed on my doormat in a black jiffy bag, with a green raven logo on the address label. Bloomsbury are putting a lot of effort into promoting Mortlock, and having just finished reading it I can totally understand why. This book is a dark and twisted horror story in a glorious Victorian setting; it is so good that I am still struggling to believe that this is Jon Mayhew's debut novel. 

This is a stunning story and, cliched thought this may sound, you really will not want to put it down. Read it on the train and you will probably miss your station; read it at night and before you know it will be the early hours of the morning (and then you won't dare turn off the lights for fear that those noises outside or in the attic may be the scratching beaks or talons of the abominable Ghuls). The pacing of the story drew me in right from the very start, and with all the requisite peaks and troughs to keep the tension mounting throughout the book I found myself on one hell of an escapist ride.

Mr Mayhew obviously put a great deal of time and effort into researching this story. His atmospheric descriptions of the Victorian locations and characters reminded me very much of the work of a couple of my all-time favourite writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe. The villains created by the author would also sit very well in a Poe horror story - the three Aunts that turn into the flesh-eating raven-like monsters are evil personified, and once they morph into these awful creatures and attack their victims the author is not afraid to continue with the detailed descriptive writing. There is certainly no attempt to patronise his audience by sanitising these scenes; they are gory and will keep the hearts of horror fans beating rapidly. Whatsmore, unlike some horror authors, Mr Mayhew doesn't go over the top by including too many of these gory moments - just enough to keep the tension at explosive levels whenever the Ghuls appear. Unfortunately for the story's main characters the Ghuls are not the author's only despicable and terrifying creation - just wait until they stumble across Lorenzo's Incredible Circus!!!

On the subject of characters, Mr Mayhew has also excelled in this area too. Josie and Alfie are entirely believable; in fact, Mr Mayhew seems to go to great lengths to make them appear to be as ordinary as possible. Josie is described as being plain, with "dull brown" eyes and her brother "small and pinched-looking". As in the majority of these types of stories there is also a host of colourful secondary characters who come and go throughout the book; every one of these is believable, and they all help the story progress in their own little way. 

I believe Mr Mayhew plans to write two more books set in this era - if they are even half as good as Mortlock then he will surely earn a thoroughly deserved place in the pantheon of childrens' horror fiction.

~~~~~~~~ 

Bloomsbury have very kindly provided me with the opening chapters to Mortlock, which you can download here. I am also going to be running a contest in the near future in which you could win your very own copy of Mortlock so please watch this space. Mortlock is due to be published on 5th April in a hardcover edition. 

13 comments:

  1. oh good, i'll bump it up the review pile then. :)

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  2. Really looking forward to this book and your great review has made me wish it was 4th April already.

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  3. Thank you. I'm so pleased you enjoyed Mortlock! :o)

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    1. this is one of the best books ive ever read:)

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  4. Hagelrat - definitely worth bumping up.

    Tam - I would be amazed if this book isn't on the shelves a few weeks before its official release date. So many other seem to be appearing early at the moment.

    Jon - thanks for the comment, and thanks also for the great story.

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  5. Fab review, I'm really looking forward to reading this! :)

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  6. Not a good book, this review really oversells it and the recommended reading age has clearly not been tried out as I am a thirteen year old boy and for me this was an easy, boring read.

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  7. hi i am dean who goes to south Wirral high school, such a good book from beginning to end read cant wait to meet you tomorrow Jon really looking forward to it. :)

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  8. hi website you just helped me do my book review copy/paste ding

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  9. i loved it i thought it was amazing.

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  10. it was a spine-chilling book
    ;)

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  11. it was totally amazing
    ;)

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  12. i rate it even though i never read it lol!
    ;) i know youre there

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