May. 18th, 2010

asenathwaite: green and blue spiral (scary)
[personal profile] asenathwaite
No more spoilers than the back cover, and probably less.

I'm not sure how little-known this book is, but I was unaware of its existence until I encountered it in the back of a used book store. It's the second book in a loosely-connected series; as far as I can tell the setting is the only connection between the books.

The House in the High Wood takes place in a 'verse I can best describe as "19th century meets Pleistocene." Coaches pass mastodon trains, there's a short-faced bear living in the woods, and a teratorn (one of my favorite extinct animals) plays a small but important part. I've never encountered a setting quite like it.

Plot summary: a new family moves into the ill-reputed old house above the village of Shilston Upcot. Strange and unpleasant things begin to happen. Mark Trench, the local squire, wants to know what's happening, no matter how horrible it may turn out to be. I love reading different authors' variations on old tropes, and The House in the High Wood is one of the best new-people-bring-stuff-what-ain't-good books I have ever read.

Barlough gets into the meat of the story almost immediately, which is delightfully refreshing after reading books that take forever to get to the events promised on the back cover (Tad Williams, I'm looking at you), and the pacing is overall very well handled. There's no sense of the author jamming things together to make the story go the right way.

One of the most delightful things about this book is the retro 19th century narrative style. Barlough writes in distant third person with a lot of straight-faced snarkiness about the setting and the characters, and yet it is still a horror story, not a comedy. I haven't read any modern horror, sci-fi, or fantasy that pulls off this style as well as Barlough does here.

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