James Brogden's The Hollow Tree was published by Titan Books in March 2018.
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 The Hollow Tree:
WHO DANCED WITH MARY BEFORE SHE DIED?
After her hand is amputated following a tragic accident, Rachel Cooper suffers vivid nightmares of a woman imprisoned in the trunk of a hollow tree, screaming for help. When she begins to experience phantom sensations of leaves and earth with her lost hand, Rachel is terrified she is going mad... but then another hand takes hers, and the trapped woman is pulled into our world. She has no idea who she is, but Rachel can’t help but think of the mystery of Oak Mary, a female corpse found in a hollow tree, and who was never identified. Three urban legends have grown up around the case; was Mary a Nazi spy, a prostitute or a gypsy witch? Rachel is desperate to learn the truth, but darker forces are at work. For a rule has been broken, and Mary is in a world where she doesn’t belong...
A REVIEW OF JAMES BROGDEN'S THE HOLLOW TREE
James Brogden's The Hollow Tree is an atmospheric and intricately written dark fantasy novel for readers who love dark and unsettling stories. It's one of the finest dark fiction novels of recent years and can be highly recommended to fans of the genre.
After reading James Brogden's previous novel, Hekla's Children, I was convinced that he is a talented author and my instincts were correct. He truly is one of the best new dark fiction authors, because The Hollow Tree is a deeply captivating and satisfying reading experience that will satisfy readers who love the darker side of speculative fiction and are in need of something dark to read.
I have nothing but good things to say about this novel, because I loved everything about it and found it satisfyingly chilling and creepy. There's no fluff or unnecessary filling material in this novel, because the story is tight and well crafted. The intricate story was so impressive that it pulled me in from the start and held my attention until the end.
What makes The Hollow Tree especially interesting is the fact that it's based on real events. The inspiration behind this novel is the story of Bella in the Wych Elm (this novel is the author's own reconstruction of Bella's story and it's a good one). The connection to real events adds macabre depth and a dash of realism to the fictional story.
Here's a bit of information about the story:
The prologue: In 1945, Sergeant Nicholas Raleigh and Corporal Rhys Hughes are investigating a bomb that hasn't exploded and decide to blow it up. Soon they notice that the explosion has caused a great split to open up in an old, dead oak tree. What they find inside the tree are the remains of a young woman... Rachel Cooper is on a boat trip with her husband, Tom. A tragic accident causes her to lose her left hand. Following the amputation, Rachel begins to see nightmares about a woman trapped inside a hollow oak tree. She also experiences phantom sensations with her lost hand. The sensations and the nightmares feel real and she hears a voice saying "Not dead!"... Rachel doesn't know who the woman in her nightmares is, but she finds herself thinking about the mystery of the Oak Mary. She wants to finds out the truth about her, but there are dark and sinister forces at work, and Mary is in a world where she doesn't belong...
This marks the beginning of a mesmerising story that gradually develops into a dark and unsettling tale of dark forces, mesmerising strangeness and urban myths.
I was pleased with the characterisation, because the author has created a strong protagonist and writes well about the secondary characters. I loved the intensity of the dynamics between the characters, because the author emphasised all the right things in his story.
Rachel Cooper is a realistic and three-dimensional protagonist who has to deal with the loss of a hand due to a tragic accident. Her way of coping with the loss is handled well, because she puts up a brave face and jokes about things, but knows that she is an amputee and will never get the hand back and her life will be forever different.
I was thrilled to read about how Rachel thought that she might be losing her sanity, because she began to experience strange things that haunted her. All of the elements related to sanity and strange occurrences are fascinating, because the author manages to keep things believable, which is quite an achievement in dark fantasy.
The author writes excellently about intimacy issues following an amputation, because Rachel notices that Tom doesn't want to touch her the way he used to before she lost her hand (Tom seems to avoid touching her and doesn't want to make love to her). This puts a strain on their relationship and complicates things between them.
Relationships between family members are also handled well. I was captivated by how realistically the author wrote about Rachel's feelings towards Tom's family and how she interacted with her own mother, because her feelings felt justified and natural.
It's great that the author doesn't shy away from sex and sexuality, but writes boldly about it. He writes surprisingly well about female sexuality, which is something that is not often seen in this kind of fiction.
In my opinion, James Brogden is one of the few modern authors who write perfect dream sequences. As many readers are aware of, dream sequences can either be a good thing or an extremely bad thing when used in a wrong and annoying way. In this novel, dream sequences are an essential part of the story and work in favour of the story and enhance the overall atmosphere.
I enjoyed reading about how the author explored what the truth behind the corpse in the tree is, because urban legends have sprung up around Oak Mary (people believed that Mary might have been a Nazi spy, a prostitute or a gypsy witch, because nobody knew the truth about her). The author offers his readers three glimpses into what kind of a person Mary has been and how she ends up inside the oak tree. Each of these glimpses is unsettlingly dark and they're all connected to each other in a macabre way.
What happens between Rachel and Mary is captivating, because Mary has come back from the dead, but she doesn't belong in our world. The supernatural elements related to Mary's character and her existence are satisfyingly creepy, and the author's vision of the forces that are involved in Mary's fate is impressive. The author uses folklore elements to his advantage when writing about these elements and forces and he does it perfectly.
Rachel's ability to reach through the barrier that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead is one of the most intriguing things about the story, because each time she reaches the umbra, it causes imbalances. The umbra is a place unlike our world, because there's dark power and there are dead things, but it's also much more than that. In fear of writing spoilers, I'll restrain myself from writing more about the umbra, but it's safe to say that reading about the umbra is intriguing and very rewarding.
I enjoyed the ending of this novel, because the author has written a wholly satisfying ending to his story. It's been a while since I've seen such a good ending in this kind of a novel. I won't reveal what happens to Rachel and Mary, but I can mention that the events will please readers.
I give this novel full five stars on the scale from one to five stars, because it's - without any kind of doubt - one of the best novels of the year. I find it difficult to believe that other dark fantasy novels will be able to surpass it in terms of storytelling, originality and characterisation, because it's so much better than anything that has been recently written by other authors.
James Brogden's The Hollow Tree is a brilliant British dark fantasy novel for readers who enjoy reading unsettling stories, because the story is something special and unique. It's a fresh and utterly compelling novel that should be on every horror fan's reading list. If you love dark and well written stories, you won't be disappointed by this novel.