Map of Blue Book Balloon

24 November 2022

#Review - The Hollows by Daniel Church

Cover for The Hollows by Daniel Church. White, as if seeing through a blizzard. On the left, a grim, grey outcrop. On the right, a sheer black cliff. Between, a bleak scene - a road winds among fallen snow, a sign warning of falling rocks.
The Hollows
Daniel Church
Angry Robot, 8 November 2022
Available as: PB, 460pp, audio, e  
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781915202383

I'm grateful to Angry Robot for sending me a copy of The Hollows to consider for review.

What. A. Book!

The Hollows takes us to the remote Peak District town of Barsall as midwinter appraoches. For non UK readers, the Peak District is a hilly part of England that is often cut off by snow in winter, a region of beautiful countryside, remote farms and isolated inns.

The author makes full use of that remoteness. As the darkest time of the year approaches, folk horror merges with cosmic horror to create a unique threat which Barsall's resident police constable, Ellie Cheetham, must take on with no backup or support. All communications cut off and with perplexing hints that the terror she confronts may spread wider than just her own town, Ellie is stretched to the limits. And the threat isn't all supernatural, there is one very formidable, very antisocial family in Barsall that regards the season as an opportunity to put itself first - and settle some scores.

I loved the Hollows. It scores highly in so many ways. There are hints of what is to come, and desperate attempt to understand the threat. There's a grimly determined woman at the heart of it all, absolutely set on doing her duty to uphold the peace and protect the vulnerable. There are desperate fights and heartbreaking loss (warning - and I make no apology for spoilers - dogs are involved). There is a satisfying historical mystery aspect that accounts for what's happening. Above all, there's a race against time as it becomes clear what is at stake.

But it's not just all those themes. The writing here is just so tactile and satisfying, blending the high fantastical - glimpses of monsters through the drive snow, cryptic runes, accounts of horror in ancient church records - with the mundane - the personal tragedy that brought Ellie to Barsall, the more or less trustworthy backgrounds of the townsfolk who she will have to depend on, her friendships with Milly, the local doctor and with the no-nonsense vicar who spends her afternoons in the pub drinking whisky and reading paranormal romance. Church is able to turn the story on a sixpence, taking us in a moment from the cosiness of an empty bar, the fire banking down, a single lamp lit, and a glass of whisky on the table to a jarring, utterly incomprehensible threat; or from banter between work colleagues to a threatening house full off potential killers - which nonetheless contains a vulnerable child. He's equally good at conveying the terror of being in a white-out blizzard to the weirdness of a cave system stocked with... no, I won't go there. Spoilers!

I loved how in this book we go from the mode of a normal police procedural - a body is discovered on the hillside, the doctor summoned, photographs taken - to the eruption of the uncanny, via a rising need for improvisation, a rising sense of threat, from a frenzied car chase on bad winter roads to a jealous confrontation, the human inextricably mixed with the monstrous. The book never rests, never gives a moment for the reader to gather their thoughts, before moving us on to another situation, another high-stakes gamble with enemies alternately very human and very alien.

A thoroughly good read, ideal for the cold, dark, nights.

For more information about The Hollows, see the publisher's website here.

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