Andrew Michael Hurley knows landscapes intimately. Forests, rivers, moorland as well as the weather that shapes them and the animals that live there. More than this, he can write about nature in all its brutal guises so much so that the reader feels it in their bones.
This book is set in the north of England and centres around a farming community, mostly sheep farmers, their village life and feuding neighbours, and the moors. The harsh life of the farmers is depicted with incredible detail and passion and intermingles with ancient folklore, history and traditions. Very atmospheric, almost gothic, the moorlands and forest hold secrets about deaths and people disappearing that may be true, perhaps accidents or possibly even caused by the devil himself.
There is no great adventure in this story, but a smouldering unease as the collective secrets unfold. Nobody really talks about anything but they turn the autumnal farming chores into fun activities that involve plenty of ritual cooking and feasting as a way to keep the farm animals - and themselves - free from being possessed by the devil. The devil makes animals and people do bad things: the dark side of nature.
The only downside is that some of the secondary characters are not developed enough, relying instead on vague stereotypes to instil familiar human conflict. However, this shouldn't overshadow the true conflicts of man against nature, fate and himself, which are dealt with in an accomplished and innate way.
The hint of the supernatural, haunting suspense fits so perfectly with the eerie moorlands, which I love, perfect for mysteries of the moors. The themes of exile, belonging, ritual and the force of nature are executed well by this very talented author. Hurley is already one of my favourite authors despite having only written two books so far.
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