Epeolatry Book Review: The Hollows by Daniel Church
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Title: The Hollows
Author: Daniel Church
Publisher: Angry Robot
Genre: urban fantasy / folk horror
Release date: 8 November 2022
Synopsis: Folk horror meets ancient gods in a remote snowbound Peak District town where several murders take place…
In a lonely village in the Peak District, during the onset of a once-in-a-lifetime snow storm, Constable Ellie Cheetham finds a body. The man, a local ne’er-do-well, appears to have died in a tragic accident: he drank too much and froze to death.
But the facts don’t add up: the dead man is clutching a knife in one hand, and there’s evidence he was hiding from someone. Someone who watched him die. Stranger still, an odd mark has been drawn onto a stone beside his body.
The next victims are two families on the outskirts of town. As the storm rises and the body count grows, Ellie realises she has a terrifying problem on her hands: someone – or some thing – is killing indiscriminately, attacking in the darkness and using the storm for cover.
The killer is circling ever closer to the village. The storm’s getting worse… and the power’s just gone out.
It’s rarely a good sign when a review starts with the words: “Persist with this one.” But honestly, please do.
The Hollows – Daniel Church’s debut, full of ancient beings terrorising a small town in the rural English hills near Manchester – is an absolute snowball, but its beginning was a bit too “police procedural” for this reader. Yes, there are hints of something strange going on, but as someone who is not a fan of the crime fiction genre, I was beginning to think I was the wrong person for this review. I put it down, let some space in.
But something kept gnawing at me. The promise of the blurb – of “folk horror meets ancient gods in a remote snowbound Peak District town” – haunted me. I went back.
It was the right decision, because – oooh boy – when The Hollows gets going, it really gets going. It becomes increasingly claustrophobic, increasingly tense, increasingly unhinged. It becomes un-put-down-able.
We open with a body frozen in the snow; the favoured son of an infamous family now mysteriously dead, looking like he was trying to defend himself from something – but what? And what are those strange markings etched in stone near his body?
The local police and GP are on the case, but that case will take them to the door of the literal worst family in the village, some ritualistic killings, a few gun fights, and then – as the wheels come off and the shit really hits the fan – we get the Total Destruction and Desecration of the village.
Only when a few of the remaining stalwart villagers head literally underground, into mysterious caverns, do we really understand what they’re up against – and it ain’t good. Will they survive? Will WE survive? Or will the ancient forces of evil wake up and plunge the world into darkness?
More than an exploration of current good and ancient evil, Church touches on a lot of societal troubles as well as his lead, Constable Ellie Cheatham, wonders if this town – this world – is worth fighting for, whether she’d give her life for it. There are elements of Midnight Mass, yes, in the remote location overtaken by religion and worship of a different kind, but the comparison is unkind – the two are nothing alike apart from that.
At 460 pages, it’s a long read, but you barely notice that as the story takes hold. It truly is a page-turner, with a point of view swap for each chapter helping to illuminate many sides of the same coin. Some work better than others; arguably, the Harper viewpoints are least successful.
Yes, there are cliches – the “bad outcast family”, the spunky young doctor, the clergy with a taste for the occult – and there are a few two-dimensional characters. And, I swear, when the middle-aged woman cop reflected on whether she still “had it”, I almost threw my tea at the wall. But persist. It’s truly worth it.
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Lauren McMenemy wears many hats: Editor-in-Chief at Trembling With Fear for horrortree.com; PR and marketing for the British Fantasy Society; founder of the Society of Ink Slingers; curator of the Writing the Occult virtual events; writers hour host at London Writers Salon. With 25+ years as a professional writer across journalism, marketing, and communications, Lauren also works as a coach and mentor to writers looking to achieve goals, get accountability, or get support with their marketing efforts. She writes gothic and folk horror stories for her own amusement, and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband, the ghost of their aged black house rabbit, and the entity that lives in the walls.