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Book Review: In The Light by S.P. Miskowski

in the light Cover“The tension and fear is built up with small details, each innocent in itself but together evoking a sense of forces beyond the character’s control.”

With her new novella, In The Light, S.P. Miskowski’s brings to a close her Skillute Cycle, one of the most interesting and compelling series of horror stories in recent years. The first book was Knock Knock, a tale of supernatural horror across multiple generations, set in the logging town of Skillute. Subsequent novellas Delphine Dodd and Astoria added more depth but were also standalone stories in their own right. Now In The Light, set four years after Knock Knock, provides a sequel and closure of a sort.

In The Light story is told by multiple narrators, starting with a young girl called Ruth. Ruth’s family has just moved to Skillute planning to renovate property and sell it on; they are not popular with the locals and Ruth is not popular with the other children. As an outsider, Ruth proves the perfect narrator for those readers as new to Skillute as she is. Events from previous books are retold as kid’s tales to scare her, fictionalised and distorted in the telling. But there’s nothing made up about the charred bones Ruth unearths in the woods whilst hiding from bullies…

Ruth’s character provides another perspective on one of Miskowki’s key themes: that of female experience, frustrated and denied opportunity in the normal ways, turning to other means to come into the light. Ruth’s reaction to the bones she discovers and brings home is not one of fright but of curiosity and the sense of possible empowerment. But the forces she is playing with have a long history and are stronger than she can imagine.

Skillute is a town that is seemingly built on age old secrets, and much of the success of the books is due to the superbly realised setting. Skillute seems almost a character in itself, changing over the years but keeping its essential nature intact. Always cut off from the rest of the world, the backwater town’s feeling of isolation is heightened here by the thick snowfall, keeping people in their houses. Not only are the people of Skillute isolated from the outside world, they are isolated from each other as well.

Miskowski storytelling and characterisation are vivid, well suited to the novella format: rather than lengthy descriptions she’s perfected the art of single, pitch-perfect sentences that tells the reader all they need to know. The tension and fear is built up with small details, each innocent in itself but together evoking a sense of forces beyond the character’s control: the ruins in the woods, the strange growth of a plant in the darkness under Ruth’s bed, and the gathering of unusually large flocks of winter birds with strange markings on their wings…

Subsequent sections of the story are narrated by characters already scarred by events from Knock Knock; it has to be said that In The Light is the book in the cycle that most benefits from the reader being aware of what has gone before. That was probably inevitable for the final story in the sequence, and who really cares when reading the previous instalments is such a pleasure? Those who have read the earlier books will be pleased to know that Miskowski brings the series to a triumphant and chilling conclusion here.

JAMES EVERINGTON

Publisher: Omnium Gatherum
eBook (110pp)
Release Date: 1 November 2014

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