Witches, ghouls, and monsters are never hard to spot in this spookiest literary season, but weird fiction these days isn’t all about the rattling of chains and bumps in the night. The new classics of the genre offer a wider range of effects than just the delicious thrill or the horror thrill. There is laughter among the graves, love among the rattling skeletons, and great ideas smuggled in with the candy.
Having written for Horrible stories, the fun kids’ TV show that’s also adored by adults, Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is well positioned to extract laughter from horror. I wish you weren’t there (Farrago, Â£ 8.99) sees a disputed family of professional ghost hunters take on a seaside town ravaged by the living dead. Summoned by the panicked vicar to banish a poltergeist from the sacristy, Brenda and Richard Rook and their children, Darryl and Charity, head to the dreary and off-season Coldbay, to find the place infested with ghosts.
It is more than what they are used to. Charity, being adopted, does not share the family trait of being able to see ghosts, but it is very effective in “popping” them, as long as it is constantly fed with crisps. Darryl’s accountant husband Janusz has no supernatural skills but helps keep costs down by purchasing ritual candles from the “Wax Lyrical Christmas Scent Line” wholesale in Boxing Day sales.
The Rook kids might be old enough to be married, but they still bicker like teenagers. Their stock in the trade is a tempting mix of skill and greed. Part of the family arsenal is a demon named Murzzzz, but even he is bamboozled by a supernatural force that propels Janusz through a stained glass window. Not through her; into it. Satirically exuberant, it is the first in a series of planned family adventures.
Much more literary, but no less enjoyable, Singularity (Walker Books, Â£ 7.99) by Eli Brown is set in an alternate American West in the early 19th century. Napoleon’s troops roam the âUnited Statesâ, aided by his âendless armyâ – a single soldier, duplicated thousands of times. Magical objects known as oddities are forcibly taken for nefarious purposes by Tarantino-style bandits: âThese were the worst types of men. None of them had been close to kindness or bathwater for very long.
Our heroine Clover is fascinated by quirks, her late mother having been a noted collector. When poachers mercilessly slaughter her father, the young girl runs away, accompanied by a heroic U.S. Army Colonel who also happens to be a talking rooster.
There are plenty of memorable encounters along the way, such as the evil dandy Smalt, quick-talking fake drug dealer Nessa, and the Dressmaker, a witch who assembles monsters made up of dead animals and pieces of junk. A cautious note explains that the (white) author “chose to create fictitious groups rather than distorting the legitimate figures and history of indigenous groups by placing them in a magical and alternate history.”
that of Philippe Womack savage lord (Little Island, Â£ 7.99) opens in the traditional and reassuring setting of a boarding school, where orphan Tom Swinton spends the holidays under the benevolent eye of his master of the house. Rescue from this boredom comes in the form of a letter from a previously unknown relative inviting him to his home in Suffolk since Tom is the last of the Swintons. But the wording of the letter is strange, and as soon as he arrives in a horse-drawn carriage at Mundham Farm, Tom is shot with a bow and arrows.
Two other teenagers, Zita and Kit, also live in Mundham, their presence unexplained. The house appears to exist in several different dimensions, with doors and rooms appearing and disappearing; once inside, Tom finds it not so easy to get out. savage lord crackles with an otherworldly atmosphere reminiscent of the great Alan Garner. Tom, a kind and sensitive boy, also knows when a hug is more effective than the strongest magic.
Death runs through the pages of Poison for breakfast (Oneworld, Â£ 10.99), the latest dark fable by Lemony Snicket, creator of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books. One morning, unsuspecting Mister Snicket, as he likes to be called, relishes his favorite one-egg meal with goat cheese, pears and honey tea, only to discover a note of warning: “You took poison for breakfast.”
He is propelled on a journey – to the baker, the beekeeper and the others – to understand why. A deceptively short tale, which quickly strays from its whimsical thriller premise and turns into a macabre and witty treatise on philosophy, creativity, connectedness, gratitude, and bravely facing its demise while living on. as well as possible in the meantime. Spoiler: the answer involves the libraries.
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