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by Nick Gifford

(Puffin, 224 pages, £5.99, published 3 February 2005.)

Review by Stephen Palmer

cover scanThis is Nick Gifford's third novel, following the well-received Piggies and Flesh And Blood -- a pair of novels that this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed. With Incubus, the author remains on young-adult ground, focussing again on a family beset by troubles, but this time we have the addition of a fantasy archetype from ancient Germany ...

Danny's father is in jail following a night of madness in which he killed five people. Danny has his suspicions about the event, not least because he has read a notebook in which his father reveals a certain fact; he was tormented by voices in his head. Now Danny is terrified of going the same way -- like father, like son -- and so he has developed a persona based on remaining cool and keeping everything under control.

Following the murders, Danny's mother and his gran moved to a hippy-style retreat in the Westcountry (a superbly drawn institution, this, leavened with much humour). But then Danny meets Cassie, a schoolfriend. Cassie is a local, and she is intrigued by the reticent Danny. Together the pair embark on a tentative relationship, in which Cassie tries to draw information out of Danny, and Danny wonders how much he should tell her.

Eventually Danny grasps that the voices in his father's head -- and in his own -- are the work of a kobold, an ancient German creature loyal to the family. As more is revealed, as Danny and Cassie struggle to learn what is going on, as Danny's mother Val begins a new relationship, and as Danny's father escapes from prison, the novel progresses to a gripping climax.

This lode that Nick Gifford is mining is really good stuff! Incubus is another very well written, readable, enjoyable and original novel. It feels like a cross between the first two: perhaps not as claustrophobic as Flesh And Blood, but with the larger-scale setting of Piggies. The author's skill is both in depicting families in turmoil -- Danny is a particularly convincing lead character, and his family are all well-drawn -- and in presenting these families with difficult situations that they must resolve. In Flesh And Blood that combination was tightly bound; in Incubus there is a wider, deeper setting, bringing in WW2 and the Berlin Wall.

A book that will be enjoyed by all this author's fans. Hopefully more is to come.

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