The Reddening

Adam Nevill
The Reddening Cover

The Reddening


Absolutely superb. I am really going to struggle to put into words just how much I enjoyed this book. I've enjoyed pretty much all of Nevill's fiction but in some ways I review his books a little harsher than others because I always have really high expectations. I go in expecting to be creeped out, scared, pulled along in a relentless tale of horror because I know every time I read one of his books there is a chance I am in 'book of the year' territory. This book wasn't just very good, it was EXCELLENT and whilst I wouldn't dream to assume I know Nevill's influences sometimes I can think I can see and hear everything in one of his books because it is so very familiar.

I am going to try very hard to stay away from spoilers in this review because every reveal of the plot in the book makes one gasp. In so much as a story about primeval beasts living underground wrecking havoc in Devon can make sense, the book does hang together surprisingly well and intersects the horrors of mankind and corruption with the horrors of godlike beasts very well.

The basic premise is that almost by accident there is an archaeological find in South Devon which significantly increases the scientific community's understanding of early mankind and their relationship to their home and environment in terms of who and what they lived with and also their practices. Meanwhile there are a series of disappearances and murders which the reader surmises are connected to the find.

In the early chapters the reader is dragged straight in. One feels that unnerving fear when one thinks they are safe and realise they are not. If a reader has ever been out in the wilderness slightly ill-equipped or inclement weather or nightfall comes earlier they will know exactly what I mean - that feeling of not being quite confident of their ability and needing to reassure themselves. Another early chapter will stay with me forever - it was just so shockingly horrific and scary I thought there was no way Nevill was going to top it - and yet he did, time and time again. I felt like I was transported into one of those 70's Italian cannibal or zombie films! It was so bleak too - I could feel the resignation in a character when it appeared that the slow onward progression of unfeeling evil was unstoppable and any kind of response was futile. That's fucked really - so early in the book my heart sank because there was such an absence of hope.

It's one of the things I really like about Nevill, he really gets you to care about every character, no matter how incidental.

Location is captured superbly in the book. One always knows that the area has a couple of nice well to do towns, full of imported money and an absence of a working class but this is contrasted nicely with the depiction of an isolated, rural farming community, the seas and valleys and woodlands acting as natural barriers from holiday makers. Just a few miles from the pretty town centres there are decrepit smallholdings owned by unpleasant stinking locals (and yes since I put it in every Adam Nevill review - no one does stink and filth quite like him).

There's a great scene in the book set in a rural village and it reads like a cross between 'The Wicker Man' mixed with the petty racism of middle England in a post-Brexit society. The sense of paranoia is pervasive but I also read it as a critique of a closed-minded and unwelcoming England, fixated on 'tradition'. Although Devon is the authors home and he clearly loves the place I did interpret that a little as a 'stranger in a strange land' and that sense that no matter how long one lives in a place they will always be an outsider.

The main characters in the book are both women and they are both very different but fierce and determined in their own ways. Their vulnerability, helplessness and terror come through all the time, but one can't help root for them and both are really strong characters taking things into their own hands. It was funny, because at one point I read a chapter and thought, 'there is no way this is being topped' and then something happened to another character and I was amazed at the emotions it stirred in me. The reader feels helpless at times because one wants to scream at the choices a character makes, desiring with all their heart to run but each page tells you they will not. Nevill gives this character loads of ways out as a reader and if I could, I'd have prayed for the character to take one. Yep, it really got to me. Then a few chapters later, he did it again. This time really tugging on my heartstrings. I can't remember reading a chapter in a book where I wanted something to change for the better for the character.

A few negative reviews have touched on the violence and gore in the book and yes, this is a graphic book and very gory. If a reader is squeamish then I wouldn't necessarily recommend this, but, I have to add in context that whilst the book is violent I never felt it was gratuitous. I have read very violent and gory books before where I felt the reader was trying to shock rather than scare and torture porn scenes in books are a bit of a turn off for me. In less skilled hands I can imagine this book falling into this territory but I don't think it does. Yes, you are 'forced' to watch / read some very horrific things but it is all there for a reason. You're safe reading your book in bed late at night but it is quite unpleasant and unsettling reading some scenes but again I think they unsettle not just because of the violence but because you care about the characters so much.

The ending is very good, and if you've read other books by the author you may feel you are headed to 'big' ending like in 'Banquet for the Damned' or a more, 'did that really happen' where reality and the fantastical intersect. I won't spoil it but there are enough hints in the book leading you in a certain direction, a few 'a-ha' surprises and plenty for the reader to fill in. It felt very satisfying indeed.

The pacing of the book is spot on throughout. It's pretty relentless at times but there is also space to breathe. When the reader needs a bit of backstory they get it in the right dose so that one doesn't feel 'info-dumped'. Long-time Nevill fans will spot the beasts - they feel familiar by now and various versions of them have cropped up in many of his books (especially 'Last Days'). I didn't spot an Easter Egg though from an earlier book - if anyone knows of one I'd be pleased to hear of it.

Finally, music features in many of Nevill's books. We had 'NWOBHM' in 'Banquet for the Damned', Black Metal in 'The Ritual' and now we have folk occult rock in this one. I did listen to Witchfinder General's 'Death Penalty' the other day whilst reading this, but a good soundtrack to this one is probably Coven and Black Widow...

Highly recommended, really loved this.