Great Britain is blessed with a rich and varied folklore, from the Celtic legends of Scotland, Wales and Ireland to the pagan folklores of rural England, and they all share a common thread. A thread of darkness and malevolence. These are not your Disney Elves or Faeries, even the so-called heroes of our legends are cursed with a dark streak.
This dark thread of our collective consciousness as been utilised by numerous writers and filmmakers over the years, Hekla's Children by James Brogden is the latest novel to take us on a journey through the stygian darkness of our primeval fears.
When School teacher Nathan Brookes leads a group of students on a walk on a hike through Sutton Park in the Midlands, he never would have thought that tragedy would strike when four of them would disappear from the face of the earth. Only for one of them to turn up the next day in total shock and bewilderment. Oliva is a broken girl, traumatised by her experiences to the point where she has no memories of what happened to her.
Fast forward a few years and Nathan is still suffering from the tragedy that befallen him and his charges, no longer a teacher, and barely part of the modern world, he is man cast adrift from society and a ghost of the man he once was. However, things are about to get much worse for him. When a mummified body is discovered in Sutton Park and Osteoarchaeologist (think Bones without the annoying support staff) Dr Tara Doumani is called in to help with the police investigation, all Hell is about to break lose as a primordial adversary is let loose in a modern world to wreck havoc, death and destruction.
Hekla's Children masterfully combines a traditional thriller mentality with a dark, brutal and at times heartbreaking horror story. In some ways, the book resembles classic era Graham Masteron, with a deeply flawed protagonist, out of his depth facing a powerful enemy from mythology brought to life. Nathan Brookes is a hard character to get behind fully, selfish, and at time self-pitying he isn't your classic hero. Despite his obvious and many flaws he struggles to do the right thing. People often talk about an everyman hero, and Nathan is the perfect example of this, with his flaws helping us to connect and feel for his plight. Without entering spoiler territory, while Hekla's Children starts off as his story, the intelligent and inspired way in which Brogden shifts the focus from Brookes to another character. From this point in the book takes on a whole new meaning and one that in many ways is more akin to individual themes of the book.
The collision between the prehistory world of "The Un" and the modern world is handled in an adroit manner. The mundane, unmagical modern world is a perfect counterfoil to mythical lands of The Un. The grey concrete world stands as a stark mirror to wild and untamed lands of the Un. Brogden development and world building with regards to The Un is exceptional. This is the world that is entirely different to ours, with different laws and socio-political concepts that would be abhorrent in our world. The level of detail and depth in which he goes into gives the novel a firm foundation from which to build the culture shock story.
Every great horror story needs a great monster and Brogden has created a highly memorable monster with the Afaugh. Brutal animalistic and devoid of any emotion other than hunger and hate, this primal force of evil just wants to destroy and run free. Brogden development of the Afaugh, however, is such that it never comes across as just a one-dimensional creature, whose sole purpose is just to be "the monster". The Afaugh taps into our fears of the dark places, the wild woods at night where things unseen roam wild and free.
Hekla's Children is a compelling thriller, filled with great characters, a fantastic world building, and an intensive thrill ride narrative that evokes a sense of dread, that will leave you scanning the trees for any sign of a figure with a big spear, and praying that there is nothing there.
Teacher Nathan Brookes leaves four pupils alone during a field trip in a national park. Within minutes, they have disappeared. A girl called Liv returns, but she has no memory of where she’s been. When a body is found years later, it is first believed to be one of the children, but is identified as a Bronze Age man. Yet Nathan starts to have horrific visions of the missing students. Then Liv reappears, desperate that the man be reburied. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay...