Cunning Folk: Adam Nevill
Reviewed By Steve Stred
I’m actually a bit stuck as to how to begin this review.
Over the last few years, I’ve read a significant amount of Nevill’s work (not all, but a good portion) and he’s quickly become a favorite author of mine.
Nevill bridges the gap in the horror world. At least in my opinion. He walks that line between the classic horror literature of slow-build, constantly growing dread and characters that dissolve over the course of 300 pages, while also tapping into the current novella-hungry, Tik-Tok attention spans, with short snappy chapters.
And he does it brilliantly. A writer who if he was a musician, would release an album that was 50% 3-minute bangers and 50% 12-minute funeral dirges.
And I’m here for it. I’m eating this up, and good Lord, let’s not forget moments of pure terror that will absolutely make you squirm and shake and wish to God you were reading this at noon in a sunny park and not at 10pm with all the lights out and the house creaking and groaning around you.
‘Cunning Folk’ is all of what I just said. And it is brilliant.
What I liked: The story begins in earnest. Husband and wife, daughter and puppy move to their forever home, out in the countryside. It’s a beat-up house, needing TLC, but Tom and Fiona, loving husband and wife, are up for it. They want to give their daughter, Gracey, a life that she’ll remember. Of woods and the ability to run free and have space. And curse you, Nevill, because this is something my wife and I discuss daily. We grew up in the middle of nowhere, where we had the same neighbors (and they still live there) and I spent my free time playing on a mountain. And that’s all Tom and Fi want for Gracey.
But this is Nevill, and this is horror, and when you combine those two – things will not work out as planned. We learn this quickly. From the brutally dark prologue to the first moments where they meant their odd neighbors, an unsettling darkness takes hold and from there we get to witness a man become unhinged, a wife who can’t handle what’s become of her husband and a daughter who is sadly stuck in the middle.
Nevill does such a great job of making this a 300 page crumbling of Tom’s sanity and his life itself, that you’ll be excused if you don’t realize that the true horror of this book is the relationship piece between neighbors. We no longer know our neighbors as we did in years past. I’m in a fortunate situation where we actually do know the neighbors who live to the left and right of us, as well as the ladies who live in the suite above us. But that hasn’t always been the case, and Nevill does a sterling and surreal job of giving us bread crumbs and letting us follow them to see just how utterly off the walls the Moots really are.
One thing I want to touch on, and man alive is it hard not to tell you the massive, massive reasons why I love this book so much by staying spoiler-free, is this book would’ve been brilliant if Nevill hadn’t even had the woods come into play. It would’ve been perfect if it was purely a thriller/boundary story about neighbors clashing, but the woods. THE WOODS.
Every single sentence, scene and section set in the woods will leave you haunted. To the point that it almost created a panic attack while reading this. I had the blankets tucked tight around my feet (as one does while scared out of his mind) and I went to move a foot and couldn’t and instantly thought something from the shadows had grabbed me in the dark. Surprised I didn’t scream my head off. But that’s Nevill’s brilliance, that’s the power he has with words and descriptions.
The ending was fantastic and I’m not ashamed to admit there are a number of moments in here that made me well up, but that final moment gutted me and it all came crashing down. The love of a parent and child really knows no limits.
What I didn’t like: The only thing that really, for me at least, felt underutilized was a character that contacts Tom later in the book to help with his situation. He knows what the Moots are and wants to help, but I found it odd the man didn’t really do much onsite. Minor, and there is a reason for that, but I felt like he could’ve really come into play more if he were at Tom and Fiona’s house.
Why you should buy this: This is Nevill firing on all cylinders and it was interesting to read the notes afterwards to see how this book started life as a screenplay and was turned into a novel. I’m of the same mind as Adam, that this would make an excellent film and with his Netflix hits, I could see this happen. Saying that, the novel itself is pure bliss, pure dread and 100% folklore horror that takes the simple act of a family buying a house and quickly flips every bit of happiness and sunshine on its head. Outstanding work by one of the best out there.
No home is heaven with hell next door.
Money’s tight and their new home is a fixer-upper. Deep in rural South West England, with an ancient wood at the foot of the garden, Tom and his family are miles from anywhere and anyone familiar. His wife, Fiona, was never convinced that buying the money-pit at auction was a good idea. Not least because the previous owner committed suicide. Though no one can explain why.
Within days of crossing the threshold, when hostilities break out with the elderly couple next door, Tom’s dreams of future contentment are threatened by an escalating tit-for-tat campaign of petty damage and disruption.
Increasingly isolated and tormented, Tom risks losing his home, everyone dear to him and his mind. Because, surely, only the mad would suspect that the oddballs across the hedgerow command unearthly powers. A malicious magic even older than the eerie wood and the strange barrow therein. A hallowed realm from where, he suspects, his neighbours draw a hideous power.
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak fiction.
Steve is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve has appeared alongside some of Horror’s heaviest hitters (Tim Lebbon, Gemma Amor, Adrian J. Walker, Ramsey Campbell) in some fantastic anthologies.
He is an active member of the HWA.
He is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife and son.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
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