{Book Review} Diabhal: Kathleen Kaufman

Diabhal: Kathleen Kaufman

Reviewed By Jennifer Sullivan

Even at the tender age of ten, Ceit Robertson is no ordinary girl. Born into an ancient matriarchal cult, where magic and demons are part of everyday life, she is next in line to become leader of the society. But after an exorcism on her mother goes terribly wrong, Ceit is ripped away from her family and placed into foster care. Without the protection of the society, her otherworldly power attracts the attention of other cults who desire her abilities, and she’s forced to forge her own destiny.

The story covers a period of several years, giving the reader a chance to see Ceit question everything she thought she knew about the world and herself. She’s an intelligent and compelling character who at times is terrifying but also elicits sympathy. By creating complex and multifaceted characters, author Kathleen Kaufman challenges the reader to re-evaluate the true nature of evil.

While the characters and use of descriptive language were fantastic, I found that the structure of the novel was confusing and misleading.

The story immediately throws the reader into the strange world of this society, which was both refreshing and immensely frustrating. I appreciated that the book skipped a lengthy worldbuilding prologue and started with high intensity as Ceit’s mother is possessed and a power struggle ensues between Ceit, her father, and the society’s elders. However, there are so many phrases and terms used without definition or background that the tension on the page dissolved as I had to stop and look up words like sluagh, rabharta, and daoine sith. Many of these terms are explained much later in the novel, but if the definitions had appeared earlier the reading experience would have been smoother.

Also, by starting the book in such a fevered state, I expected the story to maintain a high-octane tone. Instead, the intensity drops to a slow burn for the rest of the novel, and even the climax of the book fails to reach the same level of tension found in the first eleven chapters. If the story had been restructured, establishing the tone as modern Gothic literature from page one, I think I would have enjoyed it much more.


Diabhal (Devil) is the story of cults, exorcisms and the devil in 1980’s era Los Angeles.

Ceit Robertson, age ten, is the next Matrarc to the Society, a cultish, matriarchal group living in an inconspicuous cul-de-sac in Venice Beach. When Ceit’s mother is attacked by spirits from the old world, a failed exorcism results in Ceit’s exile into the foster care system in Los Angeles. She eventually lands in the infamous MacLaren Hall, a very real and historically auspicious center for disturbed and abandoned children in El Monte, CA.

Diabhal is the sympathetic story of the devil in Los Angeles. The exploration of the true nature of evil and how intention colors what our definition of wickedness truly is. Ceit grows into a force of nature, as she contains the potential and mythology of the darkest degree, but discovers that perhaps the devil is not what we should truly fear.

You can buy Diabhl from Amazon US

Jennifer Sullivan

J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.

Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.

You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan

Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com

Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan

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