The five turns of the wheel - by Stephanie Ellis
Updated: Jan 7
Folk-lore horror/ Magic realm horror is not new to me, there are elements in most of Neil Gaiman’s work that hold a touch of Faerie in them. In a similar style, Stephanie Ellis has presented her world, similar in that the creatures and magical elements in the story are real, unavoidable, and bloodthirsty.
Let me first start off by saying that Folk horror is not something I gravitate to. I like reading it – when done well, as in here – sporadically. It’s such a break from the norm and a bridge between fantasy and horror, but the thing is, I started off my reading journey almost purely in fantasy and science fiction. I was a reader as a kid, that was my thing. The Riftwar Saga, Thomas covenant, Shanara, all books based in and around fantasy. Then came comics, and horror comics, Hellblazer, Sandman, Watchmen, Cerebus, the dark Knight returns, the great Vertigo run, 2000ad, and Slaine the barbarian in all his berserker glory, Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd – you get the picture.
So, let’s start comparisons. Ellis has a way more poetic narrative. Way more. Like ratchet it past ten to 15, say. It’s a voice that is graceful, evocative, clear as crystal water. The presentation of the magical beings is, as noted, Gaimanesque in its presentation; there is nothing that the humans can do against the magical beings that are butchering their village. Acceptance, and hope that the victims will not be them this time around, is the method the villagers use to cling to their lives. And it’s a tenuous hope, we see people being burnt to death, cut by a million lashes, etc – The ritual of the yearly killings is immutable. It reminded me of a scene in Sandman where Loki is pointing a gun at a woman in a car, who cannot move – she cannot move because Loki has made her focus on a point, and now, she is trapped, her limbs quite unable react, and – oh look – the gun was always a cigarette. And the car she is in is set on fire, as the trapped woman mechanically uses her lighter and lights the cigarette held by Loki, but then drops the lighter, which is suddenly unbearably heavy, as she stares belligerently at a focal point not of her choosing as she begins to burn.
That’s the magic at play here. Impossible to fight, because it is as real as breathing.
I do have to say that this took a toll on me. This wasn’t easy reading (for me at least), I had to read this spread over an extended time, because the world here is so rich, and somewhat depressing in its inevitability, that I found myself fighting it – once you are in the world, it is subversive, it is a tragedy that demands to be played out. But upon surfacing for air, you consider the cost to yourself before you dive back in, before once again being spellbound.
Ellis has managed to import a whole world of Magical creatures into her folklore, a god, fairylike creatures, etc. and the rural setting of a sleepy English village, surrounded by four other villages in a star formation, fits Stephanie’s prose amazingly. The elegance of her prose hangs in counterpoint to the rather farm-orientated villagers. The thing is, it’s believable. It just reeks of observational commentary. The world-building here is exemplary, done so well that even though you are repulsed by the brutality of the world she has created, you want to believe that something like that could exist. You thrill that the story is about a mother and a daughter that want to desperately break the cycle of abuse and bloodshed, that have the strength to stand up to the monsters that have enslaved a whole area of Britain and its inhabitants.
And then she tells the story from the monster’s point of view.
I mean, that’s brilliance. That’s class.
I’m not going to do a synopsis of the book, I think it’s one you need to encounter in its full glory, as Stephanie intended, but I can say that the ending leaves threads open, and Stephanie has obligingly written a collection of shorts with return appearances of Tommy and Betty and the rest, called “As the wheel turns”, which I will, of course, be reading.
I’m giving this 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s- it is beautiful, horrific folk-lore horror, but a demanding book nevertheless.
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