Thursday, 6 January 2011

Review: Witchfinder - Gallows At Twilight by William Hussey

Eight pale hands - some with fingers stripped down to the bone - rose out of the earth. Slimy with rain, the rat-gnawed heads of four soldiers loomed into view. They moaned at the sky and their cry moulded itself into a word: 'FLLLLLLEEESSSSSSSSHHHHH!' The Demon Father has escaped from hell and walks among us, his trident symbol branded into the earth in countries all over the world. A scorching beacon. A call to arms. A sign that war is coming. Jake is struggling to harness his powers and live up to his reputation of the boy who closed the demon door. But now he must push all doubt aside. To stop the Demon Father Jake must change the course of history - embark on a treacherous journey deep into the past and into another dimension, filled with horror and pain. A place where innocent people are tried and tortured. A place where the law of the Witchfinder rules. Let the rushes be lit for there will be gallows at twilight.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide was one of my favourite books of 2010; it was the Book Zone Book of the Month for March, and was instrumental in awakening in me a love of horror fiction that had lain dormant for most of my life. Needless to say, I have been waiting impatiently for this book to be released for almost a year. I was therefore really excited when someone at Oxford emailed me asking if I would like a pdf version of the book, and I jumped at the chance as I had recently bought myself a Kindle.

Was the wait worth it? Yes.... every single second of it. Dawn of the Demontide was a very good book, but this is what I would call a great book. It is The Empire Strikes Back to Dawn's Star Wars in pretty much every way. The story is far darker than the original, taking reluctant hero Jake Harker to places that no sane person would willingly choose to venture into; it is more complicated that the original, with the action taking place in the modern day (both our world and the borderland world between ours and the worlds of the dark creatures), and also in the 17th Century; and like in Empire you have that constant feeling that this time maybe things won't turn out ok for the good guys at the end of the story. With the introductions all having been taken care of in the first book Mr Hussey is also able to spend more time fleshing out his characters even more, so when bad things happen to them (and believe me, bad doesn't come close), we really feel their pain. Add to this that Jake discovers that the girl he loves is seeing his best friend and I think the parallels are almost complete, although this is very much a horror story.

For me the highlight of this book was William Hussey's genius decision to take Jake back in time to 1645. Now I know some of you may let slip a small groan of dismay or ennui at the thought of yet another time travel plot line, but bear with me, for this author does it in a way that fits perfectly with what has come before, and the story he still has to tell in this book. Jake's father has been grievously injured, and Jake is led to believe that the only item that can save him from death is Josiah Hobarron's witch ball, last seen falling from the old witchfinder's hand as he sealed the Door back in the 17th Century. With Crowden alive and well and gathering witches from all over the world and Tobias Quilp rescued from imprisonment beneath the Hobarron Institute, Jake decides that he has only one option - to take the Scarab Path and travel back through time. Unfortunately nobody thought to explain to Jake that appearing out of thin air, engulfed in a magical fire and firing explosive ball of light from his hands was probably not the best method of arriving in a time period famous for its witch trials and the anti-witch paranoia that was prevalent in many areas. Oops!

Anyway, where was I.. oh yes, Hussey's genius decision, etc. Taking Jake back to 1645 has enabled the author to use as a key character one of the nastiest men that ever existed - Matthew Hopkins (aka the Witchfinder General). A real historical person such as Hopkins is a gift to any horror author - who needs to spend time creating a truly evil and despicable character when real life can be so much more scary and nasty? Jake's problems are compounded by the fact that Hopkins also has a grudge to settle with Josiah Hobarron, and being cloned from the DNA of the original witchfinder means that Jake is the spitting image of Hopkins's nemesis. Oops again. So begins a section of the book which is not a comfortable read at times as Jake is proclaimed to be a witch and tortured for his confession. And again, this is made all the more horrific by the fact that the torture of innocent people in this way really did happen. Now I am no expert historian, but I am guessing from the descriptions of the time, its people and everything else that happens, that this is a time period that William Hussey knows well, and has been fascinated by for some time.

Hussey manages the time travel aspects of this book far better than many others who have tried and failed. He also introduces a clever plot device by which Jake's friends in the 21st Century are able to follow, albeit intermittently, his progress (or lack of it) back in the past. Unfortunately for Jake he is very much on his own, striving to reach his goal but never knowing if he will be able to return to his own time and if, should he manage it, he will be in time to save his father and the world. It is these moments in the past in which Hussey really shows his great ability at character development as we witness the gamut of emotions that Jake experiences, from despair to anger to love for a girl he doesn't know, or does he?

And if all that this isn't enough to sate your hunger for the horrific then there is more: English civil war solder zombies; cannibalistic witches; a super-coven gathering at Wembley Stadium; and probably nastiest of all - the Khepra Beetle. I will not say any more about this creature at the moment, but believe me when I say that a headache will never seem the same again after reading about this little monster.

Witchfinder: Gallows at Twilight is officially published today but if you have not yet read the first book then you really should as this is a series that must be read in order. Book three in the trilogy, The Last Nightfall, is scheduled for a September 2011 release, and if you have seen the cover you will know that things are probably going to get worse for Jake and his friends before they get better.


  1. Just wondering how much horror are we talking here. I dont do horror but am asked quite frequently for MG/YA horror in the school library. Do you think these would be a good addition.

  2. Have sent you a DM on Twitter as wanted to mention an episode in Book 1 without causing spoliers for other readers. These are very well written horror, and most kids will just lap it up, but unfortunately there will always be a few parents who might take offence. But that also goes for work by Shan, Gatward, Hutchison, Gibbons et al. Horror is supposed to shock and scare by its very nature.

  3. These are generally well written scary, and a lot little ones can just lap it, however customers with rock-bottom prices a number of parents which will take offence.
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