I think myself exceptionally lucky. After falling completely in love with William Hussey’s first book, he allowed OUP to send me a proof copy of his second, Gallows at Twilight. Not only has this kind act of his led me to meet some beautiful people at OUP, but it offered me the opportunity to meet the author himself. I was close to being a gibbering idiot that evening, but Mr Hussey was gracious enough not to draw attention to it!! So here it is, long awaited, my review of Witchfinder: Gallows at Twilight, out with OUP January 2011.
Gallows at Twilight is one hell of a sequel. It completely outstripped my expectations, which is some feat considering Dawn of the Demontide had the bar set pretty high. Although they are connected, I am finding it a little difficult to compare the two, as I feel with this second book we are dealing with an entirely new beast.
Every aspect of this book feels to have developed in maturity from the first; the characters feel stronger, the plot darker and more complicated, the darkness itself more ominous then ever. William Hussey has not simply maintained his unique ability to tell a rattling good story, but has stepped his skill up another gear to create a loud, vivid, bang of a book.
From the word go, you are dropped into the action. Tension, fear and horror are grasped in the very first chapter and you barely have a moment’s breath in the four hundred plus pages. With some stories, this sense of heightened emotion can feel draining and unnecessary. Not here. I relished every twist and turn and torturous moment.
The story of witches and demons, monsters and magic, deftly weaves between the ‘now’ (a twenty-first century world just saved from the brink of destruction by a teenage boy) and the midst of the English Civil War. Hussey has bravely taken on the theme of time travel but without it feeling clichéd or ‘typical’; not my usual cup of tea, but his was a lesson in how to make time travel ‘believable’. There was no jarring between the past and present but a subtle flow that knit the two perfectly, cementing the idea that our past could run parallel in time with the present. A difficult concept indeed, but it did not falter. Hussey’s detail of the terrible era (surprisingly underused by the genre) meant you slipped comfortably into the epoch without question.
As the tale progresses, a bleakness begins to draw in. Although some little hope prevails at the end, it is a story in which the ‘good guys’ seem to lose. Their ‘mission’ somewhat failed, their forces depleted and their enemy stronger than ever. There is a looming desperation that all is far from well and perhaps this task of Jake Harker’s is insurmountable. In fact, the use of ‘twilight’ in the book is a perfect metaphor for his plight; at twilight the world is stuck somewhere between the light and the dark, hanging precariously on the precipice of something unknown, waiting for the bloody resolution of good and evil.
Trapped and tortured in 1645, Jake is completely unaware of the devilish deeds of the Demon Father and his newly acquired power. Nor is he aware of his father’s health or the developing story lines of the more richly portrayed ensemble. He has his own battles to endure – so much more than the reality of being executed for witchcraft. Jake is still battling with what he is – what he was – battling with emotions and memories that belong to another but are somehow his too. A highly complicated cauldron of emotions is portrayed that fails to fall into the ready formula of ‘petulant teenage breakdown’.
Hussey, has taken a rather over-used element of YA fiction and developed it into something new, something engaging and, yet again, believable. I’m not interested in stroppy, sulky boys or ‘rebellious’ girls – they bore me. But give me a teenager who has witnessed more than a few truly brutal magical murders (including his mother’s decapitation), who has to contend with being the only thing between survival and complete Armageddon, a teenager who is trapped in another time (and mind) being chased by all manner of wicked concoction, a teenager who’s best friend is ‘stealing’ his girlfriend, a teenager who cannot control the dark magic bubbling inside him, a teenager who was tortured for days at the hands of a maniac, a teenager so wracked with revenge that he can no longer see; this level of teenage angst I can get on board with! The reasons for Jake’s inner battle with the ‘dark side’ are piled high – they make his torn soul realistic, perhaps unlike some other magic based stories we may know.
There is so much detail in plot and character that I can’t quite comprehend how this story has been accomplished. There is far too much for comment in a short review, so much that realistically it shouldn’t work. But it does. Once again, Hussey’s knowledge of dark magic, and dark fiction, is tremendous – if not a little worrying!