Book Review: Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill

“Such is Nevill’s command of language and ability to project a crystal-clear image into the reader’s mind that we are truly captivated by the inference of what may have happened in each story, given his terrifying description of the aftermath alone.”

 

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill - coverHe is the author of nine horror novels, three of which have won the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel at the British Fantasy Awards, and three short story collections, with Some Will Not Sleep (Ritual Limited, 2016) winning the BFA for Best Collection. The name Adam Nevill has become synonymous with quality and uniquely British horror, and he has continued that level of excellence into his own publishing company, Ritual Limited, producing limited edition hardbacks and paperback versions of his own work since 2016. The latest work is a collection of seven unsettling stories, presented in a very distinctive way.

The opening story, “Hippocampus”, was first published in the anthology Terror Tales of the Ocean (Edited by Paul Finch, P&C Finch Ltd, 2015) and has since been reprinted in anthologies by Ellen Datlow and Ramsey Campbell, as well as being adapted to audio by Pseudopod, in episode 633. The story opens with a seemingly routine description of a container ship ploughing through the waves. But, through a roving point-of-view, unattached to any character, we soon discover that all is not well aboard the vessel. The longer we go without seeing any crew, and the more we witness of the violence and evil that befell the ship before the story began, the closer we get to the edge of our seats. The narrative technique employed here by Nevill makes for effective storytelling, given the nature and length of the story; the suspense probably couldn’t be held for a much longer piece and, as we uncover more details through our tour of the ship, the implications for the future can only be described as bleak.

In “Wyrd”, our narrative guide begins with a birds-eye view of a coastline, comparing it to a leviathan, before following a path into a valley and a circle of brightly coloured tents. But, through a close examination of the setting through his brooding description, Nevill gradually establishes that, not only is there no sign of current human occupation, there are signs that something sinister and terrible has happened. He adeptly gifts the reader with the sense of discovery, being first person on-scene at a tragedy. But, this being a horror story, it isn’t long before the darkness begins to encroach on our guided perspective. And, being an Adam Nevill horror story, this occurs with great subtlety and care to detail, until the true devastation is clear for the reader to see. Questions still remain at the end about the true nature of the events that took place prior to our arrival, but they are posed in such a way to leave the reader satisfied, and chilled to the bone.

“Turning the Tide” begins with the action described from the still waters of a cove to the furthest away tents of a small campground, with a great deal of violence hinted at through the destruction left. It is as though suggestive of the timeline of the tragedy that occurred before the story began, as we seemingly follow the same path as the attackers, from the beach to the camp consisting of tents and campervans. But it also suggests the cove is where the timeline ended, as though the attackers—surely more than one—came from the sea and returned to it with their bounty. We are only offered the merest of hints as to the nature of the perpetrators of the violence, but Nevill handles it extremely well, giving us just enough to truly unnerve us without ever making us yearn for more detail.

Two worlds seemingly collide in “Enlivened”, which begins with the aftermath of a horrific ritual in a cellar, complete with ancient monument and human sacrifice, before continuing upstairs in a seemingly ordinary residential home. Through the eyes of our guide, we are shown a terrifying scene of brutality in the cellar that wouldn’t be out of place in a dark fantasy of sword and sorcery. But, following a path that leads upstairs, we find a modern abode, albeit with the occasional hint at artifacts from a bygone age, like a sword or a shield. We also discover human bodies in various poses, lying where they fell under some monstrous attack. We catch a fleeting glimpse of what could have caused this devastation but, mainly, the horror is in what is left unsaid, left to our own imaginations, fed by Nevill’s bloody and precise descriptions.

“Monument” opens with the discovery of an underground chamber, the entryway seemingly only just uncovered. A brief tour shows us the cremated remains of small animals, long since dead. The exact nature of the site is unclear but, as we pan out from the mound and take in the surrounding area, it becomes clear that the expansion of humans in this rural setting, specifically a swimming pool development in the rear garden of a close property, may have led to the uncovering. Unfortunately for the homeowners, and their neighbours, they have disturbed something more than just an ancient site. The smouldering remains of a tower-like monument is near to the unfinished pool, along with a much grislier collection of personal belongings at the base. And this appears to be only the beginning. The dread described here is truly palpable, and the foreshadowing of worse to come, long after we have left the once-idyllic neighbourhood, is spine-chilling.

It seems appropriate that the next story, “Low Tide”, would open with a scene in a swimming pool, this time situated in a seaside holiday camp. But our guide does not linger in the pool for too long; just long enough to describe the most peculiar sight of tropical vegetation usually found out at sea, feasting on human prey. As the focus of the story widens to take in the devastation wrought on the rest of the camp, from luxurious chalets to everyday caravans, the amenities complex to the amusement arcade, the true nature of the tragic events become clearer, with vibrant descriptions of seemingly disparate sea-life offering little respite to the attack which has taken place. For it does become apparent that what has happened here is no freak accident, or tidal anomaly, but a coordinated assault by all manner of sea-life. You’ll never look at jellyfish or distant “land masses” without a small amount of suspicion ever again.

“Hold the World in My Arms for Three Days and All Will Be Changed.” is by far the greatest in scope when compared with the other stories. And, yet, the narrator is almost more solid as a character, the descriptions of their immediate surroundings giving a somewhat personal and intimate sensation, as though we are right there with them in the abandoned homes of the abandoned town, finding abodes left in a state of rapid desertion. While we are offered this glimpse at these derelictions that have not yet fallen into dilapidation, we occasionally hear about the immeasurable entity that has caused the panic, “an uneven silhouette so high above. Gigantic, black, inert, occulted by blood-light.” Whatever it is (our minds immediately drift to something like Cloverfield or, given the effect it is having on the Earth’s atmosphere, Cthulhu), Nevill juxtaposes its vastness with the more immediate scenes of building and community abandonment, showing the devastation at both global and personal levels. As heartfelt as the smaller surroundings are, the descriptions of the larger-than-Earth entity are breath-taking and terrifying.

As is suggested by the title of the collection, every tale concerns us encountering a recently abandoned site that has been devastated by some (mostly) unseen force; a dereliction. The author addresses the lack of character and dialogue—in a standard sense—in the Story Notes at the end of the book. It does prove something of a challenge, if the reader approaches the stories with an analytical mind. However, such is Nevill’s command of language and ability to project a crystal-clear image into the reader’s mind that we are truly captivated by the inference of what may have happened in each story, given his terrifying description of the aftermath alone. A great deal of effort has been taken to ensure every paragraph, sentence, word serves a particular purpose and is placed so as to deliver a unique and effective reading experience, perfectly-paced and as engaging as any conventional story. We may be making the writing process for these stories sound more scientific than it actually was, but only because the idea of effectively crafting such intricate and compelling fiction without the comfort of characters to whom we can relate and dialogue to rely upon seems like an especially arduous experiment. Fortunately, in this case, we are in the competent hands of a professional storyteller at the cutting edge and at the top of his game.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Ritual Limited
eBook: 106 (pps.)
Release Date: 26 October 2020

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