I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
A decade ago, teacher Nathan Brookes saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish. Only one returned, Olivia, starved, terrified, and with no memory of where she’d been. Questioned by the police but released for lack of evidence, Nathan spent the years trying to forget.
When a body is found in the same ancient woodland where they disappeared, it is first believed to be one of the missing children, but it is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior, nothing more than an archaeological curiosity. Yet Nathan starts to have horrific visions of the students, alive but trapped. Then Olivia reappears, desperate that the warrior’s body be returned to the earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay…
Hekla’s Children is described as being a combination of surrealist horror and mythical fantasy, telling the tale of four children who go missing when out hiking on a school trip. Their teacher, Nathan Brookes, is the one guiding them and meant to be keeping an eye on them but becomes distracted by some issues within his own life. As he sees the children rise over the terrain to then become hidden again, Nathan loses sight of them altogether – they have vanished into thin air with nowhere they could possibly be. A mere twenty-four hours later, one of the children is found, starving and suffering from shock and hypothermia without any indication of where she has been. James Brogden provides a narrative that, though filled with horror and fantasy, is also mysterious, mythical, and full of Britain’s history.
The majority of this book is spent following Nathan Brookes and the guilt he feels at not having supervised the missing children properly, worrying about issues within his own life instead of those of others. Having moved on from his life as a teacher and now working as an outdoor activities instructor, Nathan is plagued with images of the remaining three children walking the tracks of the mountain he is working on. Each and every time he cannot believe his eyes and feels motivated to go in search of these children and bring them back; each time he is faced with nothing, or a series of adult hikers that, from a distance, seemingly looked like those three children. Nathan, aside from his guilt and regret, is a man who lives simply, spending all of his time living at the quarters where his work is based. He has all but lost his career in education after it is believed that he has withheld information or, that he was somehow involved in the children’s disappearances. His early dialogue and interactions with side-characters pose him as someone sarcastic and witty, quick to make a comeback but also able to have a laugh – especially in relation to Robbie, his colleague.
The horror and mythical elements come, mostly, later on in the book and are related to the more historical elements of this novel. Brogden has clearly spent a lot of time researching the past of Britain, providing quality information about the Bronze Ages as well as in relation to archaeology and bog mummies. It is information such as this that I truly find interesting as I know that I am learning about history but it does not feel forced or imposed upon me. I am a willing student! It is hard to explain events without spoiling the book but Brogden uses fantasy to bring together the world of Un, a place that can be called hell, the afterlife, and many other names by many other cultures. It is a place that is outside of time and physical laws and, it is in Un, that we meet Bark Foot and the afaugh; Bark Foot being the guardian who keeps the afaugh locked away in Un unable to terrorise the real world. However, it is the unearthing of Bark Foot in the real world that shifts the balance leaving the afaugh in a position it has been seeking for a long time, and leaving the way open and vulnerable.
It is the afaugh itself that I found most horrific; in the way in which it is described, as well as the roll it plays within the narrative and historical cultures. I loved the way that Brogden interweaves the afaugh, and Bark Foot, into the narrative putting significance on their roles and highlighting that there is more to it than meets the eye – something that is revealed later on within the novel. The way in which the afaugh haunts and terrorises is what I feared the most throughout the novel with Brogden writing these scenes with a fast-pace and in a way that makes you feel like you are going through shock and have been at the scene, unable to comprehend what has taken place. It is a fast blur that seems unimaginable.
I feel like I haven’t really said a lot about this novel, but it is one that I find hard to describe with everything being linked to everything else. I believe that if I was to go into too much detail I would spoil events within the novel and ruin it. I went into this novel without knowing anything except the contents of the synopsis which originally drew me in. And, though I was waiting for elements that had been mentioned in the synopsis, I was more shocked, horrified, and full of fear from those that I knew nothing about. I was pleasantly surprised by events I was not expecting and the way that the novel twisted towards the end highlighting how each character came to be where they are, and it was truly genius and unexpected. It is not horrifying in that you will shit your pants in fear and won’t be able to sleep for days in end, it is more the concept of the myths and legends that is horrifying and what they are capable of doing. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and the overall concept. I was hooked throughout as each event unraveled and the truth of the events was spelt out for me. You definitely need to read this!