Witchfinder by William Hussey
Evil has shown its face in a small English village by the sea. Centuries ago a coven of witches summoned a or that would lead to demon dimension, allowing a flood of malice to overtake this world. They were stopped only by one man - The Witchfinder. He managed to cast the coven into obscurity and hold back the tide of demonkind, perishing in the process. He could not destroy the door however, and once in every generation the demons come knocking. The only way to bridge the gap is a sacrifice - the life of a child.
The inhabitants of Hobarron village are responsible for holding back the Demontide. The elders, disgusted with their actions after the last sacrifice, have turned to science to win their battle. They have founded The Institute, a research facility staffed by Elders, to find a solution and now Adam and Clare Harker have found one. Unfortunately, this makes them and their son, Jake, prime targets for all things evil. Clare and Jake are attacked by a terribly evil witch, Mr Quilp, and Clare is viciously killed. Jake escapes and is desperate to find out more about the Hobarron weapon, his mother's work, and may be closer than he thinks. If he can't the Elders will be forced to sacrifice another child and that child is increasingly likely to be Jake.
Jake is whisked to Hobarron village. Under the watchful eye of the Elders he tries to find more about the village, its elders and what happened all those years ago with the original Witchfinder. The inhabitants have an eerie Stepford feel, all forced cheerfulness and false smiles. Strange things begin to happen and the story quickly descends into darkness as terrifying omens and malicious witches close in on all sides. Its up to Jake to save himself, to find another way to avert disaster and there are no good guys to come to his aid. He's all alone, he's facing all of demonkind and he had better find a way quickly as the door is about to open.
This is a fantastic debut with the perfect blend of old fashioned fantasy, myth and science which brings in all the elements of a traditional witch tale but with a great modern twist. Even those traditional elements are taken one step further on the creepy scale, particularly the witches demons; imagine an overgrown spider with the face of a beautiful woman and huge, razor sharp fangs. In fact, making your skin crawl is an area in which Hussey excels. He touches the story here and there to turn an already unnerving scene into the stuff of nightmare, such as the box that has a life of its own, containing the worst you could possibly imagine, or the cold blooded murder of a small girl in a Big Top by a twisted, evil Ringmaster.
The characters are well written and believable, especially chilling Dr Holmwood, head of the Institute. Jake's character is well fleshed out and develops nicely in a short space of time. This means that the twist in the tale, which was well plotted and not obvious, had a greater impact as the reader does come to care about him. We loved the similarity between the coven and the Elders, pushing danger at Jake from all sides without becoming overbearing. The plot is exciting, definitely gripping but not over paced. This was a good choice because Witchfinder is a story to be savoured, not devoured. Hussey has given us a wonderful tapestry of terror, with an atmosphere of darkness and malevolence that sends chills down the spine. The unanswered questions kept me guessing through the book without becoming irritating, as too many first books can. We received this book amidst acclaim for William Hussey as a true writer of terror and after reading Witchfinder we can agree wholeheartedly. Hussey is a master of dark fiction and we expect great things from the rest of the trilogy.
Our thanks to OUP for sending us a review copy
Reviewed by Jo@KidsCompass