The Book of Kindly Deaths

The Book of Kindly Deaths

The Book of Kindly Deaths was written by fantastically named Eldritch Black and first published in 2014. It is a gothic horror story which is framed around the titular book, in which the tragic stories of humans and their encounters with monsters are recorded. The novel reads as though it’s the first part of a series but at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Following the disappearance of her Grandfather, Eliza Winter and her parents are forced to stay in his creepy house while they put his affairs in order. As Eliza waits for them to finish, a strange man appears at the door. He claims to be a book collector looking for a particular tome in her Grandfather’s collection but Eliza senses that he is lying. There is just something inherently wrong with the dark stranger.

As Eliza explores the house, she comes across a secret room which contains the book. Its title is The Book of Kindly Deaths and, although its pages initially seem to be glued together, she soon discovers that the stories it holds can only be read in the correct order. Hiding the book from her disapproving mother, she starts to read at night and quickly discovers that the stories within are far from pleasant.

Each story tells the tale of a human who has run afoul of the monstrous inhabitants of the Grimwytch and have suffered horribly. As Eliza reads on she begins to see the creatures that she reads about lurking around her Grandfather’s home. Although she can tell that there is something horribly wrong with the book, she knows that she needs to read it to the end. It could be the only thing that can tell her what has happened to her Grandfather.

Firstly, I will begin with a warning. The Book of Kindly Deaths is pretty scary for a young adult book. Although it doesn’t really contain that much gore, it does give off a constant sense of dread. In tone it’s a bit like Coraline meets A Series of Unfortunate Events meets The Whisperer in the Darkness. The novel is dark, often grotesque and thoroughly unpleasant things frequently happen to undeserving people. It is certainly not a book for sensitive readers but I thought that it was wonderful.

The Book of Kindly Deaths was one of those stories that stay with you because it’s just so fantastically unsettling. For me, the absolute best thing about the novel was its setting. The Grimwytch combines the familiar with the eldritch to make a truly unforgettable world, populated by creatures that often only seem harmless on the outside. Helpless old ladies suddenly bite off people’s heads, mushrooms release spores that shred people from the inside and just standing in the moonlight is enough to forever transform a human into a hideous ghoul. Yet it’s the similarities with our world that seem to make it all the weirder. The existence of things like cheese and goats in such an alien world makes it seem all the more uncanny.

The first half of the novel was largely a collection of short stories, rather than a single work. At first, I felt that perhaps this was a little excessive. While all of the stories were sufficiently creepy, the first couple were the most effective (especially the first one – that really creeped me out). After this, the purpose of the Book was made clear and so it became very obvious as to the direction each story had to take. Yet, in the second half of the story, I realised that all of the asides contained information that was important to the overall plot. When Eliza eventually travels to the Grimwytch, all of the things that she learned while reading the Book are significant. Even the overall twist of the novel was actually foreshadowed really early on.

However, I was disappointed that more time wasn’t spent on Eliza’s story as this ultimately felt very rushed. This story was wrapped up rather suddenly and neatly with the villain of the piece only getting introduced in the final 10% of the novel. The plot thread concerning Eliza’s mother also trailed off without proper resolution. Her overbearing mother never showed any indication that she was changing her ways until the final page of the story and we never discover how she reacts to the knowledge that Eliza has discovered the family secret. I personally found this to be very disappointing. The mother’s attempts to control Eliza formed such a big part of her life in the opening chapters; it felt a little weak to have this aspect of her character just disappearing in the final act.

In terms of characterisation, I quickly grew to like Eliza. She reminded me a lot of Candy from Abarat in the way that she interacted with the inhabitants of the Grimwytch. Although she is just an ordinary human, she faces the monsters with determination and courage (making her a far braver person than I would be if placed in her position). However, I was a little disappointed in her use of brute force to overcome the most troublesome of gribblies. The novel indicated previously that the best way to defeat monsters was to know their weakness but this didn’t really factor into the story as stabbing them seemed to work just as well.

Unfortunately, other than Eliza, the other character development within the novel felt a little rushed. This was entirely due to its structure – there was simply not enough page space within Eliza’s story to develop its cast. This was a bit of a pity as the characters are all rather bold and memorable – from Eliza’s controlling mother to her demon-hunting Grandfather. I do hope that this story gets a sequel as there is so much scope to develop the relationships between these characters. In particular, I really do want to see more of Shard. He was such a striking character and yet we learned next to nothing about his race. I hope that Black gets a chance to explore this in a future instalment.

All in all, I really did enjoy The Book of Kindly Deaths. Black is clearly a really imaginative author and his novel used the Gothic tone effectively, resulting in a story that was dark and genuinely scary in places. However, Eliza’s story did ultimately feel a little rushed and I felt that more time could have been given over to further developing the characters. Still, I would happily recommend this novel to any reader who loves spooky stories.

The Book of Kindly Deaths can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eldritch Black
    May 09, 2015 @ 17:23:42

    Thank you so much, I really appreciate the time you took to leave a review. It’s always great to get someone else’s take on things as well as feedback.
    I see from the accompanying picture you have a familiar reading another Book of Kindly Deaths. Or perhaps writing one? 🙂

    Reply

    • Kim
      May 09, 2015 @ 19:44:32

      You’re most welcome – I look forward to reading more. We have certainly set Sobek to work reading the Book to ensure that we are prepared in case we encounter any denizen of the Grimwytch.

      Reply

  2. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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