Jason Golomb's Reviews > Something Red

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas
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Oct 20, 12

bookshelves: epic, fantasy, historical-fiction, horror, literature, thriller, favorites
Read from October 16 to 20, 2012

“Something Red” is a beautifully written, patiently drawn, mood-filled literary thriller. It’s not outright scary, but one could classify it as horror. It’s not a straight out mystery, though poet-turned-novelist Douglas Nicholas drafts an expectant, slow-boil whodunit.

“Something Red” centers on a small band of travelers winding their way through northern England at the earliest onsets of winter. The story is told through the eyes of Hob, a young orphan in the care of Molly, a world-wise woman who's equally as skilled with a bow, as she is with the medicinal powders and elixirs she keeps in her wagon. Molly’s granddaughter Nemain and the silent, brooding and terrifically strong Jack, flesh out Molly’s troupe.

Nicholas uses his remarkable linguistic skill to build his plot and shape his characters, slowly like the earliest bubbles within a pot coming to boil. The story thread develops patiently, always on the verge of exposing an important clue, always promising to unlock a key riddle in a characters’ development.

This following quote not only describes a scene midway through the book, but aptly describes the reading experience itself. “Life with Molly’s troupe was a constant procession of revelations…like suddenly stumbling upon an old Roman road in the midst of thick forest. Questions rose to his lips, so many that his thoughts became too tangled to choose one."

There’s a supernatural element to the story, but it’s subtle and suggestive, and not fully explored until the final 75 pages or so. The dark and purposefully trudging plot persistently pulls the reader towards an inevitable peak - supernatural, but realistic and very human in its portrayals of emotions and motivations.

Nicholas serves the story like a feast of accents. The core narrative is written in a form of middle-age English, but the various characters are written with both soft and hard Irish brogues, peasant medieval English, and a heavily accented Eastern European.

So wonderfully epic in his storytelling, Douglas establishes a broad mythology that hints at the possibilities of a sequel.

If a monastery, forest inn and castle form the backdrop for the expositional narrative, then the building pressure and promise of snow and its eventual release in a monster blizzard provides its voice.

A great autumn or winter read, I wanted to step away from my reading nook and find a snowy forest dell to envelope myself further within this tale. But not too far.

As Hob asks from within the confortable and warm confines of an English castle: "What could harm us here? What could reach us here?”

Much. And more.

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