The Plague Stones
Titan Books, 419 pages
Review by Benjamin Thomas
James Brogden’s The Plague Stones is a gothic world of horror and history. The novel follows a London family: mother, father, and son, as they leave the city following a violent break-in and become the inheritors of an isolated property in Holiwell village. As the family becomes accustomed to the odd ceremonies regarding plague stones that they find scattered around, things begin to take odd turns. Visions of a dead girl plague the family, and underlying tensions begin to bubble to the surface leaving the reader with no other choice but to frantically turn the page and find out if they will survive the horrors of Holiwell, and of those of their own, more personal making.
Brogden’s writing drew me in from the very beginning of the novel. He has a knack for horror, and a skill on judging just how much should be revealed and at what times. As the family begins to descend into madness, Brogden continues to let little bits of history escape, carefully avoiding information dumps, as well as long, drawn-out passages that could potentially bore readers. The novel’s pacing is pristine and never lets up. He is creative in the way he passes information to the reader: using a school history teacher and a question asked in class, as well as dialogue.
Part of the narrative takes place in the thirteen-hundreds, and at no point did I feel Brogden’s depiction of that time or the true horrors of the plague were misrepresented in anyway. His writing has a unique quality: you believe it wholeheartedly. Not only is the suspension of disbelief present and accounted for, the novel’s pacing and tension remain steadfast throughout.
A singular qualm with The Plague Stones is the numerous backstories. Each member of the family has their own issues, and while these being present can lead to deepening feelings toward a character, they were slightly distracting in this novel. I want to point out that I think each one was developed and engaging, but I wanted more of the main story, and while I didn’t get annoyed or bothered by the side plots, I definitely wanted to turn the pages slightly faster while reading those sections, if only to get back to the main, vengeful story line.
The Plague Stones landed in my lap while I was on the look for a good horror novel. It did not disappoint. James Brogden wove together a tense, macabre novel that would be a perfect read for the coming fall.