Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

From Goodreads: “From debut author Douglas Nicholas comes a haunting story of love, murder, and sorcery. During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.

An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous.”

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas might be the most stunning debut novel I have ever read. The language is beautiful and descriptive; the novel is an incredible sensory experience for the reader – sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell are effectually described in vivid detail.* What may initially seem a dull premise, the journey through the woods in winter; turns into one of the most suspenseful, foreboding journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Nicholas vividly paints 13th century England – food, travel, clothing, and society seem meticulously researched without being dry. As Molly’s troupe travels from monastery to inn to castle, the trappings of medieval life ring with authenticity.

Many of the characters (human and animal alike), especially Hob, were wonderfully developed and by the end of the novel I felt a deep affection for them. The world Nicholas built in this historical fantasy novel is fascinating and harshly beautiful. I would not hesitate to read anything else written by this author, his love and skill of the English language is apparent.

Something Red is tinged with magic, horror, gore, love, mystery, suspense, and mythology. No theme is predominant; each is expertly woven into this masterpiece of historical fantasy. Ultimately, Something Red surprised me. I was prepared to like it based on many of the glowing reviews it has already received. I wasn’t prepared for quite how much I would love this detail rich, hauntingly original debut novel – or how long the characters would resonant with me after I was done. If you read historical fantasy (or historical fiction and don’t mind a bit of horror and sorcery), this is absolutely a must read. I would also recommend this novel for anyone who loves to read a beautifully crafted novel, because Something Red is most certainly that.

*You know it is likely to be a great book when the first of many beautiful passages you encounter is on page 4: “Hob began to feel an unease of spirit, an oppression. The sensation grew swiftly till his bodily woes shrank right beside it. He looked left at the slowly passing forest, rightward across the rippling, smoking haunches to the trackside brush and more trees, climbing away to the west. He felt breathless and ill. He felt like a coney in a snare, and he could not tell why.”

Photo: Goodreads

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