Wednesday, 2 April 2003

Tom Holland: Deliver Us From Evil (1997)

Edition: Warner, 1998
Review number: 1150

Deliver Us From Evil, a historical horror novel, starts at the end of the Cromwellian Commonwealth in England, just before the restoration of the monarchy and the reign of Charles II. Captain Foxe, an officer in the militia based at Salisbury, begins an investigation into a series of ritual murders at ancient monuments (the cathedral and Stonehenge are the best known), and becomes convinced that they are connected to strange events in his home village of Woodton. There, the manor house has been abandoned, as many are, by exiled supporters of the king; but in Woodton the gentry were rumoured to have been involved in black magic.

When Captain Foxe and his wife are killed by the evil he has been seeking out, his teenage son Robert begins a quest to gain revenge, to be able to face and destroy the evil power which has taken over the manor and possessed the villagers of Woodton. To this end, he spends the remainder of the book travelling through a Europe beginning to recover from the Thirty Years' War and to the American colonies, and spends much of his time in the company of 'blooddrinkers' (vampires).

Though Deliver Us From Evil could never be described as a conventional historical novel, it quite naturally needs to excel in many of the same ways that a member of that genre does - notably in terms of its background. It must feel accurate once the horror elements are removed (and it is helpful if even the supernatural side respects seventeenth century ideas on the subject). Deliver Us From Evil succeeds admirably in this respect, particularly in the way it uses well known people of the time (the Earl of Rochester and John Aubrey are particularly prominent).

As a horror novel, it lies squarely within the traditions of the vampire story, particular debts being owed to Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. Holland rings enough changes to make Deliver Us From Evil original within the tradition, and he is also occasionally much nastier than eithe Stoker or Rice (for example in the description of the anal rape of Robert Foxe by a demon wrhich ends part one). If you can cope with the nastiness, Deliver Us From Evil is a fascinating novel, well worth reading.

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