Review: “The Reddening,” Adam L.G. Nevill

Pros: The second half gets pretty weird
Cons: The first half is slow and dull
Rating: 4 out of 5

Adam L.G. Nevill’s The Reddening: A Folk-Horror Thriller introduces us to an unusual find that a paraglider, Matt, found: a stretch of cliff crumbled, revealing caves and many, many bones. The academicians who go in to study the place confirm that cannibalism took place there: 60,000 years BC, 45,000 years BC, and 13,000 years ago–all the way back to the Neanderthals. They found female skeletons interred with reverence, painted red, and called them the Red Queens. Meanwhile, a man gets lost on a walk through South Devon and finds a farmhouse occupied by two people who are naked and painted red. Shelly and Greg go camping by the shore and are beaten to death by naked people painted red. Kat, a lifestyle journalist, keeps having nightmares triggered by the exhibition of items from the dig site, and her boyfriend Steve becomes overly interested in a local musician, Willows, whom he believes is running drugs. Helene finds CDs of recordings from her brother, Lincoln, who supposedly killed himself six years earlier (but the body was never found). Six years after Matt’s discovery of the dig Kat goes back to talk to him, and he’s greatly changed. The formerly athletic young man is haggard and paranoid. He speaks of locals in on some conspiracy, and Kat is loath to take him seriously.

The first half of this book didn’t grip me. In particular, after Kat is introduced and after Helene is introduced we spend an inordinate amount of time listening to their respective ruminations. We also have to sit through a press conference about the dig, as well as various natterings from Wikipedia pages when Kat goes researching things online. Maybe if you’re super into archaeology you’ll find it more interesting than I did? For me, it took far too long to get from the opening to the meat of the problem.

The characters are okay. They’re fairly straightforward, but a bit interesting. Steve is just kind of annoying and I found it hard to understand why Kat was with him. We really know very little about Helene beyond her relationship with her daughter, Valda. This book is long enough and detailed enough that I felt surprised at the end by how much I didn’t know about some of the characters. The bad guys are also a bit one-note, but to be fair, given how depraved they are, there isn’t a lot of room for nuance there.

The second half of the book mostly made up for the first half. The red people finally got involved in the events of the present, and they were appropriately terrifying. Content note: things get gory, and there’s animal harm and death. I don’t want to say much about the second half because I don’t want to spoil anything; it’s tense and twisted, and definitely kicks things up by several notches! All in all I’m glad I read this book, but I really wish the first half had been shortened a bit, or the red people had put in more of an appearance in that part.

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