Thursday, June 13, 2013

Just More Proof That Visiting a Small Island Is a Bad Idea

First Paragraph:

"Velocity. It was like flying three feet above the tarmac. Wind rushed against him, roared in his ears, and he let out a whoop of excitement. This was living: taking the turns in the road at high speed, every one a risk and a reward."

Turner by Karl Drinkwater is a fast-paced story horror/thriller. 

The book starts '2 months ago' and introduces us to Tom Stanley- a cycling fanatic. He loves to spend his holidays out in the wild, undisturbed parts of Wales, with nothing but his bike. This time he's headed for a small village in Anglesey, Wales- courtesy of a creepy story from a friend. Why he's going to an island that so spooked his comrade, is probably one of those human nature things I'll never understand. 

The destination he's heading for is Stawl Island (better known as Devil Island- translated directly from the Welsh), a tiny village on the coast. The theory is that the name came from piracy in the thirteenth century. There is another rumour. One that says the name came about because Satanists occupied the island. The island is occasionally connected to the mainland by a sandbar- subject to tides and weather. 

Once in the village, he feels a kind of unease and eeriness about the place. It's too quiet and the villagers are a little 'off'. Nonetheless, he decides to stay the night, but the village may have other plans for him.

Cut to the present. We are slowly introduced to three new characters. First, Chris- who has been living on the island for two weeks. Around thirty and with a bit of a past, he's come to the village looking for a new place to start a peaceful life. He too has noticed odd things about the place. For one, women are rarely seen, apart from the mysterious Bran Ddu- who exudes an odd, unnatural air. 

Now on the hunt for a job, he takes a tip from the local barman and heads towards the logging camp. After a night of drinking, he gets to the camp hours later than arranged and finds it empty- abandoned. 

Next we meet David- a young cop who has also recently moved to the island. He requested the transfer after an incident at his last post, and is looking for the relaxation that comes with a tiny community with no crime. He has a love of jogging, and often goes jogging around the island with his dog Spotty. But he's not the only thing running through the forests. 

Finally Megan- who's taken herself on a camping holiday in order to persuade herself that she's completely and utterly, 100% over her ex. She's been on the island for three days, watching the wildlife and solving a puzzle book she brought along. 

The three characters are all eventually thrown together. All three go through varying degrees of awareness about what exactly is going on on the island. Soon, all three find themselves on the run, but escape is barred by the lack of a sandbar. A storm is upon them and it's vicious waves have tossed the sand aside. They have nowhere to go. No choice but to wait for the sandbar to reform. They'll have to wait it out and hope they survive long enough to get the chance.

First impressions of this story are as follows. The first time we see the village, it is immediately creepy and unsettling. For anyone who is genre-savvy, you'll instantly expect the worse. There are a lot of homages to various horror films in this book, and the first few scenes in the village reminded me a lot of King Kong and Deliverance. The villagers communicate in an unknown language (unknown to the protagonists anyway) and give off a creepy aura. Common sense denies there's anything wrong, but instinct screams for you to run. On a small side note, if I was ever in a situation of being in one of those creepy towns or villages from so many horror movies, I would follow my instincts. Between mild embarrassment and horrific death, I certainly know which one I'd choose. 

Some of the timeframes can be a little confusing until later in the book. Until Megan, Chris and David all met up, I hadn't realised they were there at the same time. But that's only the half of it. This is a very confused story, but for good reason. It is a chaotic string of events, that eventually tie together. There are a few leads that go absolutely nowhere, and some things that seem of grave importance are, in fact, meaningless. 

I've been quite ambiguous about the plot because we are given so little information. Anything I tell you could spoil the story. I don't want to mention anything beyond first impressions of the characters, for fear of ruining the book. Which leaves me with very little that I can actually tell you about the story.

We are given the same information as the protagonists- which is very little. The 'why's', 'who's', 'what's' and 'how's' are predominant. Why is is happening? Who are these people? Who can be trusted? How can they escape? What the hell is going on? We gain understanding as they do- if they do. For obvious reasons, they aren't exactly in the loop, and so, neither are we. We do get a little more information than they do, but it doesn't really help to make any sense out of anything. Which can make the events very hard to grasp, but create that brilliantly terrifying fear that comes from being hunted and from not knowing why. The tension is palpable. 

There are a lot of 'dark magic' elements to this. How much of any of it is real, is unclear. I'm pretty sure it's mostly rubbish, intended to brainwash the necessary people, but I could be wrong. It's dark science or dark magic or just dark nature. 

The climax is the only thing I really have any criticisms for. When we get the reason behind everything, it just seems a little flat and unoriginal. The build-up to it is so raw and substantial, that the ending is just a little overshadowed by it. The villain is one of the most disappointing aspects.  The actual ending after the climax peters out a little, but still manages to keep that unease. Having said that, neither the climax, the villain or the ending are bad, they're just not as great as the bulk of the story. The villains reasons are their own. To them, the reason is everything. To us, it's not really a reason. I know I said the end is a little lacklustre. We aren't given any answers up to that point, and when we finally get the big one I was expecting a little more. In the end though, the reason is irrelevant. 

When we start to get those answers, they can be even more terrifying. It's human nature to want to know 'why', but the cold truth of it is that sometimes some people, some things, don't need a 'why'. As you drown in the confusion and fear paralyses your body and mind, the 'why' won't really matter. What difference would it make, knowing the reason for the madness? Sometimes, it is better not to know. 

There are a lot of horror aspects to this story, but without taking them too far into the genre. I would class this book somewhere in between horror and thriller. There is a lot of violence and gore, but it's also integral to the story- which is very much a thriller trait. Often horror has violence and gore for the sheer hell of it, with no reasoning behind it other than to shock the audience.

Any horror themes present are more young adult based than adult based. Young adult horror mostly revolves around the monster in the closet, the things that go 'boo', urban legends and myths. Adult horror is generally more psychological, and a lot of it applies the 'shock' method of adding things in for the sole purpose of being shocking, gruesome or disgusting. There's no necessity. It has no effect on the story. If it's a movie or a game, it's the same principle as adding in jumpscares. They're completely irrelevant, serve no purpose, but always scare the audience (unless they're terrible).

I admit that between the two, I am much more a fan of the urban legend inspired young adult horror and not much of a fan of adult horror. Make no mistake, horror is horror. And this book does horror. It will creep down your spine and tense your muscles. Those myths and legends that inspire young adult horror, have always been scarier to me. Adult horror disturbs me more, but children's horror was always more terrifying because those monsters and demons always seemed so real to me. When we're alone and in the dark, it's the monsters we feared as children that haunt the shadows.

Somewhat of a digress there, but back on track now. Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. This is one of those books where the story will carry you more than the characters. To me the characters are almost irrelevant. We are given very little background on any of them. They mostly take a back-seat, and just get carried through by the plot. Very typical of horror. Anyone who's seen any horror movie will know the basic characters you get in every one. For the most part, they're just vessels that allow us to see the events, and that's what these characters are. 

A little background before you go. There actually is a Stawl Island. It is a small village in Wales and even has it's own Lord. It was a hotbed for pirates. There's even a sandbar that connects it to the mainland. However, everything else (you'll be glad to know) is entirely fictitious. In fact, the island wasn't even open to tourists, but after this book, the current Lord of Stawl Island is thinking about changing that. 

This book is a fast-paced, nerve fraying, seat grabber of a story. It starts off a little slow, but once it gets going, there is absolutely no stopping it. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own. 

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks, that really made my day! I really appreciate it, and you're exactly the kind of reader I'm after: thoughtful, perceptive, with a knowledge of genre wider than the text itself. Fantastic. I love the way you went with the dilemma of being in the protagonist's shoes by accepting the little information they have. And I’m glad you’d run if you were ever in that circumstance!