When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less-than-warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries – before it’s too late for little Mimi. Riveting and intensely atmospheric, this stunning debut will hold readers in its spell long after the last page is turned.
First of all, I was really pleased to find out that this book takes place in the 1950s. Yay! I love period pieces, especially period pieces that take place in the English countryside (or the countryside of other European nations). Lindsey Barraclough does an amazing job of really bringing 1950s England to life here. She also does a really great job of setting the scene. Byers Guerdon is a morose, gloomy place and that really comes through in the writing. It’s marshy and woodsy and isolated, and full of things that go bump in the night. It definitely had a very English Countryside vibe.
The book is told in alternating chapters in the voices of Cora, Roger, and Aunt Ida and there is never any mistake as to whose perspective you’re currently reading. Cora & Mimi are city girls from London with very particular accents and uses of slang. Roger & Peter are from the small village and their voices are very different. So often when multiple narrators are used everything tends to run together and it’s hard to tell one from the other. This was definitely not the case here. And I loved all of the slang terms. I even found myself reading their dialogue in an English accent.
As far as the book overall, it’s more unsettling than scary for the most part. There is a definite sense of tension that starts as soon as Cora & Mimi arrive in Byers Guerdon and continues to ramp up into a sense of dread as more and more strange goings on happen. Cora begins to see things that aren’t there, then Roger sees them, and they dive into trying to figure out what’s going on in the present as well as what happened in the past. Why is Auntie Ida so stern about them playing in the old church & cemetery? Why are the doors and windows always locked tight, even in the stifling heat of Summer? As Cora & Roger dig into the mystery they learn that many small children have gone missing from Guerdon Hall and they find themselves face to face with a monster. As much as I said that the book is more unsettling than scary, that doesn’t apply to Long Lankin himself. His description is utterly terrifying.
I thought that the story started a little slow but at about 100 pages in it really picked up for me and I had a hard time putting it down. The ending is extremely tense and definitely the strongest part of the book. The book is based on an old English ballad, which is really creative source material IMO. And the ballad itself is pretty scary, considering that it’s about murdering an infant and his mother.
Overall I liked it a lot. It’s not the most action packed book you’ll find and it might make some impatient, but if you give the book time it definitely pays off.