|Image from http://www.paulcornell.com/|
Tor.com, 22 November 2016
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy via NetGalley
It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another.
Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.
Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!
I am NOT Paul Cornell. Like him, however, I am married to a Church of England priest and live in a small community in Southern England. So I am loving this series (see here for review of The Witches of Lychford) as much for its depiction of the joys and frustrations of life in such a community, as for the supernatural spooky stuff.
The supernatural, spooky stuff is, is though, magnificently done, truly eerie and frightening. Lychford seems to be something of a spiritual front line, its streets carefully oriented to defend the town against incursions from outside and a trio of 'witches' - Lizzie, the new Vicar, Autumn, proprietor of the town's New Age shop and Judith, more of a traditional witchy type - on guard against incursions. The supportive grumbling between the three women is one of the nice points of this story.
Like the previous previous book, this is short, a novella but - with the setting and characters now established - more of it can focus on plot and building tension, so it perhaps works slightly better in this length than Witches did - not to say that wasn't a great read, but you perhaps get more story here.
Again, Lychford is under attack but it's a more subtle, almost snide kind of attack and some of it has clearly taken place offstage, as it were. We're left - for a bit - to divine just what's going on, as Judith continues to care for her revenant husband, Autumn looks after her shop and Lizzie devotes herself to the rush of Chtistmas activities, supplemented by a couple from Swindon who want their wedding on Christmas Eve. (If there's ever a suggestion of a Christmas Eve wedding here me, my son and the dog will take drastic measures, up to and including organ sabotage). Is there a bad case of the midwinter blues (plus overwork) going on here or something sinister? This being Lychford, we can guess the answer...
Cornell gradually ratchets up tension, keeping the reader guessing about just what is going to happen (and about the place of that little lost ghost in it all). Then he springs his trap and all seems hopeless. In the darkest part of the year, the dark seems to be rising...
A wonderful, chilly tale, whether you treat it as a Christmas ghost story or a slice of cosmic horror. The author is clearly having fun with Lychford - and the Church! - and I hope there are more of these coming.