Never Judge A Book By Its Cover
Wait? What? That’s terrible advice. Well, yes, I know it’s supposed to teach one not to take others on face value and look deeper than their outward appearance, but still, if I had subscribed to this proverb then there are so many books I would never have discovered.
Case in point – The Curse Of Ragman’s Hollow. When I browse through the lists of books available for review I tend to skim, only requesting ones which catch my eye. And this was one such book. I loved the minimalist artwork of the cover, which seems simplistic, but on further examination actually suggests a lot. I also loved the title.
Being a big horror fan, and writer of ghost stories myself, there are certain buzzwords which will always stand out to me, and Curse is definitely one of them! So, with an eye-catching cover and a nicely suggestive title, I set to reading Rhys A Jones’s book.
So What’s It About Then?
Sam Jones seems like an ordinary kid, with an ordinary life, but he has a secret which only he and his Gran know about. No, he’s not a superhero – Sam is one of the cunning folk. As a keen follower of British folklore, and also the superb Hookland twitter feed, I of course instantly recognised this phrase which, in layman’s terms means that Sam is a witch. There’s a lot more to it than that, but in a brief synopsis, this seems the best quick and dirty explanation.
Sam has inherited this skill from his Gran who is secretly teaching him how to responsibly use his great power and he is looking forward to a school holiday filled with learning all about his heritage and taking his magical exams.
However, his mother decides he needs to spend more time with children his own age and takes him away for a holiday with a family friend, much to Sam’s distress… and his Gran’s when the location of the vacation is revealed. For Granny Merryweather knows Ragman’s Hollow very well, and it’s a place she fears greatly – and for good reason!
Crikey! Sounds Scary!
The interesting thing about Curse is that it is marketed as a fantasy adventure for all ages. From my own experience, I know that that’s something really quite difficult to pull off. Too childish and you alienate your adult readers, too complicated or wordy and the kids soon get bored. And then there’s the scare factor. How far do you go when writing horror for children? If you know the work of Darren Shan then you know he pulls no punches with the over-the-top gore (something I didn’t particularly enjoy in his Demonata series although kids apparently love all things squishy and ‘orrible). But Curse takes a different route – one which may be familiar to readers of the notorious short-lived 1980s horror comic Scream. The horror in Curse is much more subtle and aims for gore-free chills – some of which are really quite scary without ever being traumatising. One particular passage at about the halfway point really got under my skin. But the threat is never particularly sustained, giving the reader time to breathe and laugh between scares.
How Was It To Read?
Curse was a quick read, being completed in little over two hours with short, episodic chapters taking 5-10 minutes each, meaning that the pace of the story never dragged. Often I can feel that the middle section of a book can sag a little, being bloated out with exposition for the sake of an increased word count. I never got that feeling here – Rhys A Jones is extremely economical with his words, keeping the story zipping along at an exciting pace.
I entered into this book expecting it to use simplistic language, and while this is true to some extent, I never felt at any point that I was being patronised – a rare skill that is normally reserved for writers such as Dahl, Nesbitt or Walliams.
What’s also worth pointing out is that Curse is the third book in the Merryweather series. I had never heard of it before receiving my review copy so learning this upon starting the book made me somewhat nervous. However, the elements of the previous books are introduced subtly without it ever feeling like one is reading a “Previously…” recap. Within a couple of pages, I was up to speed with the world of the modern-day cunning folk and the necessary history of the main characters. At no point did I ever feel that not having read books one and two meant I was missing something in the third.
Only one that I can think of – but it’s a small one. With the chapters being so short and the pace never really letting up, I felt that the confrontation with the main threat, the titular Ragman, felt a tad rushed. However, this is only a small concern. Although he only appears in person towards the end, his presence is felt throughout the book and the build-up to the finale is extremely well done. As is often said, the journey is as important as the destination and it is definitely the journey which entertained me the most
So You Liked It Then?
Yes, I did. Rhys A Jones was true to his All-Age brief as I can also imagine having enjoyed this as a 9-year-old and a teenager as well as an adult. The funny stuff made me laugh, the scary stuff gave me goosebumps and the story itself was an interesting conglomeration of Folk Horror, Goonies-style hi-jinks and Harry Potter-esque wizardry.
If you’re looking for a magical adventure with some interesting ideas to read alone or with the family I can heartily recommend it. I, for one, will definitely be seeking out the first two books in the series!
The Curse Of Ragman’s Hollow is available to buy now on Amazon.
About The Author
Rhys A Jones was born in 1955 and grew up in a mining village in South Wales with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He managed to subdue his imagination long enough to carve out a career in medicine, writing whenever the chance arose.
The Merryweathers mysteries feature a boy and his more-than-meets-the-eye Granny Merryweather. The Curse of Wihtlea Barrows (previously the Dreables) and The Curse of Borage Doone have just been released as paperbacks with new covers and a new publisher (Wyrmwood). The third in the series entitled The Curse of Ragman’s Hollow is now available at last!
Rhys is currently writing The Artefact Quintet featuring eleven-year-old Oz Chambers whose family inherits a ‘haunted’ house. His mother wants to leave, but Oz wants to unlock the house’s mysteries and uncovers a secret that will change his life forever.
Rhys also writes for adults as DC Farmer and Dylan Young.
He has three grownup children who have emerged remarkably unscathed into adulthood. When not writing, he practices medicine and lives in darkest West Wales with his understanding (very) wife and dog.
Oh, and the Rhys is pronounced Reece–as in the actor Rhys Ifans of Mr Lovegood (Harry Potter) and The Lizard (The Amazing Spider-Man) fame. Or perhaps it’s easier if you just think of Reece Witherspoon, though she is a lady.
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