The Darkling | R.B. Chesterton

The Darkling by R.B. Chesterton is a horror novel about families and secrets.

When the Hendersons take in a mysterious teenager, they are happy to have a new addition to the family, but it soon becomes clear that Annie is no regular orphan . . .

In the 1940s, Coden, Alabama was a hideaway for movie stars – an isolated playground tucked among live oaks and placid bay waters where pleasure and vice could be indulged. By the summer of 1974 Coden”s glamour has faded, but it doesn”t bother Mimi Bosarge, who is just happy to have a job as a live-in tutor with the wealthiest family in town, the Hendersons. When the Hendersons generously open their arms to Annie, a troubled teenager with no recollection of her past, Mimi”s greatest concern is creating a curriculum for the family”s new ward.But it soon becomes obvious that something is wrong. Annie seems suspiciously savvy for her young age, and Mimi can”t quell the unnerving sense that there is something malicious about the waiflike beauty.

This is an effective horror novel that nonetheless has a lot of problems.

Oh, but this could have been so good.All the elements are there. An isolated family, a strange interloper, an unreliable narrator, a creepy old house in the woods. It should have been marvellous, the sort of book that chills you on even the hottest summer day. And the writing, at least, is very good. Atmospheric, descriptive, properly horrifying.

It’s jsut that none of the rest seems to fit together. The pacing is off- not dramatically so, just enough to make the book feel wrong, disconnected. Because the pacing is off, we lose our sense of tension, and so we lose the horror.  That, alone would have been enough, but it has problems with characterisation, too. Characters I think I was supposed to like and sympathise with I found irritating or outright unlikeable, while I sympathised more with the characters we weren’t supposed to. Mimi, our lead, I found almost impossibly annoying, as she somehow managed to be stupid and foolhardy at the exact same time she was being cowardly and hesitant. She was a very passive character- the plot happened to her, she seemed to have little to no influence. She might as well have not been there.

I found it a very unsatisfying book. I’d hoped for more, for better. I see the author has another book coming out next year – I may well read it, because as I said above I like the writing. I just hope this shaky pacing and weak characterisation is down to this being a first novel. It would be a shame.

2 out of 5.

Provided for free by Pegasus Books through Netgalley

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