Here’s another awesome meme for the Meme Monday slot! I first saw this a while back, but it still makes me chuckle (and fills me with pride that Furnace made it on to I Can Has Cheezburger)! Thanks to the mega awesome Courtney Kraft, for this amazing honour!
I read The Woman in Black last year, and it was easily one of the scariest ghost stories I have ever experienced – it was beautifully, masterfully written, and it left me with chills. I often read in bed at night, and I rate scary stories on how keen I am to leave my room and walk down the dark corridor to the toilet before I go to sleep. After finishing The Woman in Black I wasn’t quite brave enough to leave the safety of my duvet despite the fact that I was absolutely bursting for a wee. I just knew that if I was to set foot outside my bedroom she would be there, waiting for me…
That’s the power of a good ghost story. It totally seeps out of the pages and becomes real in your own world. A good ghost story is like the Grudge – it’s a contagious haunting. Those ghosts totally know who you are and don’t leave you alone. It’s terrifying, but it’s exhilarating too. It’s why we read them. And I was so hoping that The Mist in the Mirror (which was a Christmas pressie from my Mum, thanks Mum!) would have the same bladder-splitting, spine-chilling effect on me.
For a while, it did. It tells the story (well, the story within a story, as the book is told by a narrator reading Monmouth’s account of events) of Sir James Monmouth who, after spending almost all of his life abroad, returns to England. He intends to write an account of the explorer Conrad Vane, the man who inspired his travels, but the more he delves into Vane’s life the more dark secrets he uncovers about the man’s exploits – and the more he learns about his own forgotten childhood. The two are mysteriously intertwined.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Susan Hill is capable of spinning a fantastic tale. Her gothic style is brilliantly authentic. The world she describes is a world lost, but it feels so real. You’re right there in the heart of it. She is also a genius at creating atmosphere, permeating her words with a palpable sense of dread. There are moments of horror in this book, passages that literally leave you with a cold sweat. And it’s not always the obvious ones, either, the sightings of a ghostly, crying boy or the mist that swirls in the mirror. For some reason the passage in the book that chilled me the most was an apparently innocuous scene on a wooden bridge, and a flock of geese flying overhead. It was so real, so vivid, so imbued with atmosphere, that it gave me goosebumps (no pun intended).
It’s a great mystery, too. Conrad Vane is like a ghost himself in the sense that he dominates the story, and Monmouth’s life, even though he is long dead. The more Monmouth learns about him, the more imposing a figure he becomes. Hill really does keep us guessing about Vane, and about the explorer’s connection to the narrator’s own increasingly sinister childhood. It’s page-turning horror at its best.
Until suddenly you get to the end… And you realise that nothing has really been explained. Without wishing to give away any spoilers (which itself would be quite hard, considering how little is revealed), Monmouth’s investigations lead to a highly anticlimactic conclusion. It really does feel as if Hill had found her stride, built up towards a wonderful ending, then realised her favourite show was on the telly so finished with a couple of halfhearted explanations before rushing off to the sitting room. I finished the book and wondered if maybe I’d missed something, and it was only after checking other reviews that I realised I hadn’t. Who was the ghostly boy? Who was the spooky gypsy lady? What really did happen to Monmouth’s family? Nothing is truly answered. Worse still, the final scene in Monmouth’s story, which has the potential to be utterly terrifying, just peters out. It is so disappointing.
It’s maybe unfair to compare this to The Woman in Black, but it’s impossible not to. Whereas that book slowly charges up the atmosphere before releasing it in a brilliant, devastating ending, this one blows itself up then releases like a balloon, squeaking and whistling and farting itself to nothing. I finished it at about one in the morning last night, then happily got out of bed and went for a wee without the slightest trace of fear or anxiety. I didn’t even turn on the hall light. Such a shame!
As most of you know, I am a massive Darren Shan fan. His number one fan, in fact. He was hugely inspirational in starting me writing, and I now consider us friends, which is so awesome. And yes, I’m trying not to sound too much like Annie Wilkes when I say that…
I bought a copy of his brand new series Zom-B last year, but have had so much on (including reading and loving his new book for adults, Lady of the Shades, which I will review very soon) that I only found time to sit down and start it last night.
Start it and finish it, I should say. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a fantastic read. Quick, gripping, thrilling, vicious, and challenging too. More challenging than his previous work, I think, in a good way. Although it starts off in a very familiar fashion: poor Brian wakes up in the middle of the night to the sounds of a zombie apocalypse, and witnesses much limb-ripping, skull-splitting, brain-devouring nastiness – as well as a mysterious man with large eyes who seems to be immune to the walking dead. It’s a gory, intriguing prologue that reminded me of the start of Lord Loss, but from the end of this chapter the book takes a different route.
The main story follows B, a teenager with anger management problems and a severe disregard for authority. Worst of all, B is a racist. It’s easy to see why, because B has just about the most despicable, fascist thug of a father you could ever imagine, a brutish bully of a man who beats up his wife and child and who would gladly leave a baby to die if it wasn’t white and English. B is locked in a constant moral war between the need to please this nightmare of a dad and the need to do the right thing – a war that B is in danger of losing.
It is such a compelling story. So compelling, in fact, that I could quite happily have read a whole series about the relationship between these two characters without the added horror of zombies. (And that’s really saying something, because I love zombies!) It was a tricky thing for Darren to do, because there’s always the risk of creating something that reads like a school RE textbook on the danger of racism. But B is such a well thought out, realistic character that this never happens. B leaps from the page, brilliantly real because at times you love this character and at times you hate them. It’s been a while since I’ve had such a complex reaction to somebody in a book. The real horror in Zom-B isn’t the living dead, it’s just the living, and they can be so much worse.
But of course this is Darren Shan, so it doesn’t take long for the genre horror to find B’s world! And wow, Darren doesn’t pull any punches. The last part of the book is a non-stop ride on the gore train, and so much fun (in a horrific way)! I won’t say much, only that I always think there’s an easy way to differentiate between the various levels of horror out there: screams and spasms. Most scary books have screams in them, but you know the author is really going for the jugular when people spasm as their lives are being ripped away. And there is lots of spasming in this book! He also does for zombies what he has already done for vampires and demons – presents us with something at once familiar and brilliantly unique. These zombies are nasty!
It’s a fantastic read, and better still it’s the first instalment in a 12-book series so there’s much more to come. And when you finish this one you’ll be desperate for the next because there is not just one but two massive plot twists that will leave you reeling. Zom-B is a must for any horror fan, but more than this it’s a challenging book with some important questions, the most important of which, I think, is how much of our nature is determined by our parents and how much do we use this as an excuse for our actions? From what I hear about the books to come, it’s the first of many moral issues that will really force readers to challenge their own perception of the world, and of themselves.