What a wild ride this book was! This story feels like getting lost in the house of mirrors at a creepy carnival; your head is spinning, you frequently exclaim “What the shit?”, but carry on anyway because it’s sort of fun and you are kind of curious what else they can throw at you in an attempt to scare the hell out of you.
Hekla’s Children is not your average horror novel. I mean, sure, you have a healthy dose of blood and guts flying around, it’s spooky, has a great amount of mystery surrounding the bog mummy, but it also reads as a fantasy story, heavily seasoned with mythology, ancient rituals and folklore. Set in present day England and a sort of in-between world, called Un resembling what it must have been like in the Bronze Age, the story alternates between reality and the spirit world, keeping you on your toes all the time.
But what does it have to do with Hekla, the Icelandic volcano? In the Middle Ages people called this volcano the “Gateway to Hell”, so it might be a reference to the portals through which certain evil elements slip in and out of Un to unleash hell in the Midlands and Wales, and others pass through hunt down aforementioned elements with varying success.
It’s a well-known fact that messing with the spirit world is never a good idea. Dr. Tara Doumani, the osteoarchaeologist working on the remains, however is way too much of a rational scientist to pay attention to the creepy messages, written on her living room wall, demanding that she PUT HIM BACK. The guardian spirit of course weakens, and enters a cool ass monster: the afaugh.
‘Which is another thing: the hungry ghost. It’s in every culture. They call it preta in India and the wendigo in North America, and depending on the theological sophistication of the prevailing culture it can represent anything from a simple cannibalism taboo to our unhealthy attachment to worldly pleasures.’
Despite being confusing in places the story flows and James Brogden’s writing is vivid and highly entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogues, and every single character felt like real people with interesting personalities and flaws.
Nathan is kind of an asshole, but in spite of being selfish at times, it’s easy to relate to him. He was still in his twenties when the pupils went missing. Having been accused of murdering them, coupled with the end of his teaching career, and being plagued by constant guilt over what happened, one can see how the circumstances for self development might not be ideal.
Even though Nathan is the protagonist, for most of the book anyway, we get to know a great deal about the others: Sue Vickers, Dr. Tara Doumani, Olivia, and even one of the detectives assigned to the gruesome case, so no matter where the story takes you, you are invested in these people and there’s something intriguing in every chapter.
Hekla’s Children is a truly unique horror story, an enjoyable, quick read for fans of the genre.