James Brogden's Hekla's Children was published by Titan Books in March 2017.
Information 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.
Click here to visit his official website.
Information about Hekla's Children:
A decade ago, teacher Nathan Brookes saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish. Only one returned - Olivia - starved, terrified, and with no memory of where she’d been. After a body is found in the same woodland where they disappeared it is rest believed to be one of the missing children, but is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior, nothing more than an archaeological curiosity. Yet Nathan starts to have terrifying visions of the students. Then Olivia reappears, half-mad and willing to go to any lengths to return the corpse to the earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay...
A REVIEW OF JAMES BROGDEN'S HEKLA'S CHILDREN
Let me start this review by saying that every once in a while - if you're lucky - you may come across a horror novel that is something totally different and mesmerising. This is one of those novels, because it's not your average horror fiction, but far from it.
James Brogden's Hekla's Children is an impressive British horror novel, because the story has been immersed in ancient folklore, history and mythology. It's a veritable page-turner and a class act in thrilling storytelling that holds readers captivated by its dark contents.
There are many things about British horror fiction that I admire. One of the main reasons for my admiration of British horror fiction is that British authors dare to write about various themes and issues in a more striking and ruthless way than other authors, because they have a high appreciation of originality, style and substance, and - what's most important - they don't let their stories become muddled by unnecessary fluff. After reading this novel, I can say that James Brogden is a gifted horror author, because originality, style and substance go hand in hand in his story.
In Hekla's Children, James Brogden delves into British folklore, rituals and ancient beliefs. As most of us are aware of, British Isles have a vast legacy of rich folklore that dates back to the early ages of the isles. Much of the ancient lore has been lost over the years, but a wealth of information and beliefs have survived the test of time and continue to amaze and chill us. It's great that James Brogden touches on these matters in this novel, because I've missed reading horror fiction in which authors write about ancient beliefs and folklore elements.
When I read modern horror novels, I pay a lot attention to the story, writing style, originality and entertainment values. I'm happy to say that this novel was a pleasant surprise for me, because the author breathes fresh air into modern horror fiction. He writes captivatingly about the strange happenings and avoids clichés and staleness.
Here's a bit of information about the story:
Hekla's Children is a story about a teacher called Nathan Brooks who was with his students in Sutton Park, which is a nature reserve of woodland, heath and marsh. He saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish without explanation. Olivia was the only one who returned, but she was terrified and traumatised, and had no recollection of what had happened to her. Nathan was questioned by the police, but - due to lack of evidence - he was released. He has spent years trying to forget what happened to him and his students. Now, a few years later, a body is found in the same ancient woodland where the students disappeared. The body is believed to be one of the missing students, but is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior by Dr Tara Doumani. There is, however, something about the bones that can't be explained, because one leg seems to have received modern medical treatment. Nathan has suffered a lot since the incident and is now merely a ghost of his former self. He starts to have terrifying visions of his students. Suddenly, Olivia reappears and is willing to do anything to return the body back to its resting place, because something terrible will be let loose if he doesn't go back to the ground...
This is the beginning of an enthralling, unpredictable and surprising story, which will satisfy many horror readers. The story is so good that once you start reading it, you'll find yourself turning pages in order to find out what happens to the characters. I found myself enjoying every moment of the story and was pleased with its freshness.
The characterisation is impressive, because the characters are well-created and realistic. The character interaction also works well. The conversations between the characters are wonderfully poignant and have sharpness and even a bit of humour. I have to mention that the interaction between adults and children feels fully believable, which is great, because not many horror authors get it right. For example, the scene in which Robbie tells children about slate-worms is marvellous and features excellent dialogue.
James Brogden writes intriguingly about Nathan and his life, because Nathan has suffered a lot since the terrible tragedy that befell him and his students. He used to be a teacher and was in love with Sue, but the disappearance of the students changed his life forever. When he hears about the body that has been found in Sutton Park, he soon finds himself in the middle of terrifying happenings.
It's great that Nathan is a realistic and flawed character, because it makes him human. I've always found this kind of characters more interesting than perfect characters who never have any problems and who solve things easily. Reading about Nathan is genuinely interesting, because his life has been anything but easy and normal.
The other characters are also interesting. It was fascinating to read about Sue, Tara and Olivia. I especially enjoyed reading about Sue and Olivia, because their lives hadn't been easy. Reading about what happened between Sue and Nathan before Sue was married to Steve was intriguing, because it complicated things for both of them and caused friction between them. Olivia is an intriguing character, because she's one of the students who disappeared. The author writes fluently about her determination to do what must be done, because she knows things about the body and the brutal force of evil.
The author brings Sutton Park to life with his descriptions, because he easily creates a vision of a place that is inhabited by wildlife and has a mysterious past. In certain ways, Sutton Park feels like an equivalent to Ryhope Wood in Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, but is different from it.
I love the author's descriptions about the ancient and prehistoric world of Un, because many things about it feel wild and untamed. He writes so well about Un that certain parts of the story have a strong feel of historical fantasy to them (the world of Un has been created exceptionally well, because the worldbuilding is outstanding). Un is different from our modern world in many ways, because its inhabitants, the Oendir, have their own culture and society. It exists on the landscape that has now been covered by Sutton Park.
One of the best things about this novel is that James Brogden has come up with a memorable and a bit different kind of a monster. The afaugh is an animalistic and brutal force of evil that seeks entry to the world so that it may feed. Similar kinds of creatures have occasionally appeared on the pages of horror stories, but the afaugh has a more primal and threatening feel to it than many other creatures (its mere appearance evokes a deep sense of dread in the reader). It isn't a one-dimensional creature, but a well-created being with its own thoughts and intentions.
James Brogden's prose flows powerfully, because he writes vividly about the happenings and the characters. I'm sure that many readers will love his energetic writing style and enjoy his way of moving the story forward at a steady pace.
I think it's good to mention that this novel has a pleasing amount of blood, gore and splatter elements. I like the author's way of writing about gory scenes and visceral imagery and find his depictions of gruesome details satisfyingly unsettling.
I also want to mention that, when I read this novel, I got a feeling that the author has done a lot of research, because all of the elements ranging from archaeology and history to folklore and mythology felt well-researched.
This novel will appeal to many readers, because it has the same chill and entertainment values as Stephen King's early novels and is reminiscent of novels written by Robert Holdstock, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons and Tim Lebbon. I have a strong feeling that, a few years from now, this novel will be regarded a modern classic, because it's exceptionally good.
I give this novel full five stars on the scale from one to five stars, because it's the kind of modern horror fiction that I love very much. I look forward to reading what the author writes next, because I was impressed by this novel and found it wholly satisfying.
Hekla's Children is modern horror fiction at its most captivating, because James Brogden incorporates folklore elements into a modern horror story in a compellingly dark and fresh way. It's - without any kind of doubt - one of the best and most outstanding horror novels of the year, so please, make yourself a big favour and read it as soon as possible. You simply can't afford to miss this novel.