(Puffin, 224 pages, £5.99, published 3 February 2005.)
whispers of death," apparently, which is a damn sight less than most
incubi are supposed to get up to. In fact, the villain of Nick Gifford's
third young adult novel is Hodeken, a German house spirit that latches
onto the Schmidt family, following our hero Danny Smith's grandmother
over the newly-erected Berlin Wall to England in the 1960s. Hodeken
always protects its own, even at the expense of other people's lives,
and it has difficulty telling who does and doesn't pose a threat ...
When Danny's mother was unfaithful, it spurred his father on to murder.
Now Danny and his mother have moved into a New Age commune, where one
of the teachers has his eye on Mrs Smith -- and Danny begins to hear
voices in his head ...
There's a whole bundle of teenage issues wrapped up in this book. Foremost
is the desire to prove oneself an individual, distinct from one's parents.
More strongly, Danny doesn't want to turn out like his father because
his father's a killer. When Danny tries to assert his will over the
voice of Hodeken, the sprite springs his father from jail, forcing the
issue into open confrontation. There's also an exploration of the upheaval
caused when one parent takes a child with them into a new situation,
and of the upheaval the child themselves can cause, expressed through
Hodeken's antics. And then there's experimentation with things that
shouldn't be experimented with, when a girl called Cassie lures Danny
onto an online ouija chatroom to communicate with Hodeken -- not to
mention Cassie herself.
I don't know why, but German is definitely the language of Bad Fairyland.
I think my precedent for this is Grant Morrison's "The Invisibles",
where the Metz Judderman (or a good likeness) hovers over Jack Frost's
shoulder muttering "Seelisches Land, seelisches Land ... " Or perhaps
it's a Grimm thing. In any event there's a certain extra special something
about a malevolent sprite if that sprite is German. Danny's grandmother,
cackling to herself at the window, only bolsters the resonance of this
connection in my mind. The other good thing about making Hodeken German
is that it gives Gifford a reason to devote several pages to the Schmidt
family's backstory, showing us Germany at the time the Berlin Wall went
up in wonderfully real detail. This section grounds the whole story
much more firmly in the "real world" and, for me, makes this Gifford's
best novel yet. (Of course, I haven't read Erased
yet, and if the upward trend continues ... )
With a strong twist ending and more emphasis than before on psychological
horror over physical horror, Incubus makes great reading for
all horror fans. Buy it for a young adult, then pinch it from them.
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