Colin Harker transcends with the lengthy debut novel, The Feast of the Innocents, named, no doubt, after the Christian feast in remembrance of the massacre of young children in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Borrowing from inspirations Mary Shelley and Thomas Ligotti, Harker crafts a deliciously gothic novel that is brought to life by a cast of peculiar, well-formed characters, all with their own motives and schemes.
Though the cast may be prominent, it is Laughlin Priory, the English priory where a majority of this tale is set, that is, perhaps, the largest character of them all. With its towering figure, numerous rooms, and endless halls beneath its body, it is, perhaps, the perfect, isolating set piece to the events that unravel. It is here our injured lead Cyrus Plainstaff makes his escape from a murderer forever at his back, and it is here he meets a character I grew to love by the very last page, the chimneysweep, Childermass (Editor Note: The Feast of the Innocents [the holiday] is also called Childermass). Childermass is, by first impression, seedy, with, shall we say, odd proclivities. But by the end of the middle of the book, I warmed up to his dark ways and found him a lovely mirror to Cyrus, who, as the protagonist, is, of course, save lying to everyone for good reason, morally sound.
It is the Priory where these characters encounter not only each other but dark schemes, that, when it came down to it, were truly dark. I was pleasantly surprised when one character’s machinations were revealed and dark magic made its unexpected appearance. There are few twists and turns like that in the book, but once it gets going it doesn’t let up and the slower pace of the first half was quickly forgotten.
Harker is adept at interjecting comedy/lighthearted moments after particularly tense moments which break up the tension nicely and provide a smile or laugh when needed. Her writing is engaging once one gets used to the historical way both the story is told and written: her prose bounces and flutters with colorful adverbs and there is a lot of time spent on people’s appearances–their visages changing form (figuratively) in candlelight, or their expressions contorting monstrously revealing the truth of their motives. These are all done beautifully to give insight into the characters’ truths, especially riveting from another character’s point of view. A lot of gothic novels I’ve read in the past have provided this same access to a character’s soul and Harker is no different.
A Feast of the Innocents may have been released last year, but it is as timeless as any gothic novel made years ago. Its horrors are bound within its pages, and like the Priory in which its set, one need only enter the world she’s created to explore its ceaseless and terrifying secrets.
Highly recommended for lovers of gothic fiction who love murder, blood, and mystery in their slightly religious books.
A solidly built story, if a bit lengthy, with a large cast of characters and a satisfying (and bloody) pay off at the end.
Though there are more than one in this chilling tale, all of the revealed antagonists are well-written, devious villains that attempt their vicious goals with sadistic pleasure. A pleasant surprise.