Pros: Truly fascinating characters; very original
Cons: So confusing and sometimes boring
Rating: 3 out of 5
W. Sheridan Bradford brings us the horror/urban fantasy novel All Hallows. Maren Glover is what you might call a witch, and she’s much older than you’d anticipate. She’s creating night worms, dangerous little creatures that can absorb a dying person’s soul and then settle into a child’s brain–where the soul within the worm helps to guide and protect the child. She just needs to work out the last kinks in the recipe. Meanwhile, her seeing stone guides her to a young woman with a baby. The baby is in danger, and Maren must choose between breaking her fast and devouring the baby for “the gift,” which will make her younger again, or saving the baby from a plot by another witch. Later on this All Hallow’s Eve someone takes out a bounty on Maren, and she encounters a number of dangerous creatures–a necrolich, a vampire, and a werewolf, among other things. Staying alive will take all of her wiles.
This is less a novel than a connected series of separate events. First we see Maren dealing with a child she wants to help in some way. Then she collects a soul for a night worm. Then she deals with Abby and her baby Kenna. Finally she has a string of encounters as various people come for the bounty on her. There’s no real arc to keep you holding on when things are slow.
And yes, there are slow parts. The first time hits when Maren is talking to a dying woman and feeding her magic cookies, and the author spends several pages on cookies. I was actually a bit impressed with that, frankly. The second time comes when Maren is sitting in a gazebo waiting for whatever her seeing stone has guided her to, and you kind of have to be patient to get to the good stuff. The third spot happens while Maren is sitting in the gazebo next to Abby and her baby Kenna, and we spend a while inside Abby’s head as she muses on all sorts of things. This one got actively boring. It’s a shame, because the later material is quite riveting.
“There is one house that needs cleansed,” Maren said. “Only one that reeks of a false god.”
“But they have full-size Snickers!” Uriah Lee protested.
The narrative is very dialogue-heavy in places, and it feels like the author is so busy making all the dialogue “clever” that he never includes enough context. I frequently felt quite confused, and felt like I was missing all sorts of stuff. The characters are quite unique and interesting, which is the one thing that almost made me want to read any further novels, but the confusion soured my read-through enough that I don’t think I’d enjoy the experience.
Content note for gore (there isn’t much of it, but what there is feels extremely visceral). Also bits of bigotry in Abby’s musings.
“There are fifty ways to build a cat, but the tried and true methods require ingredients that–speaking of which, I need four of your fingers.”