When I first read the book cover blurb for Hekla’s Children (Titan Books), my immediate impression was that James Brogden’s book was a mystery novel about missing schoolchildren. But Brogden’s page turner proved to be something else again: a crafty dark fantasy with a mid-volume plot swerve that at first threw this reader but ultimately made sense in the book’s larger scheme.
After a preface set in an initially undefined ancient tribal world, we’re taken ten years past to Sutton Park in England where teacher Nathan Brookes is watching – and loses – four children on a field trip into the park woods. Only one child returns, distraught and telling tales of a ravenous monster. Initially a suspect in the children’s disappearance, Brookes loses his job and drifts into a variety of part-part positions, alternately worrying and wondering about the missing kids – and feeling self-pity for the way his life has gone to hell.
When a mummified body is uncovered in the park – and one of its legs appears to be from a twentieth century body – Brookes is drawn into re-investigating the disappearances. In so doing, he learns that the returned child Olivia’s tales of monsters and strange worlds aren’t delusions after all.
If the profoundly flawed Brookes was our only hope in the fight against a demonic body-stealing creature called the afaugh, the situation would be hopeless. But Brogden also provides a group of strong women characters to counter the other-dimensional horror that has found its way into our world.
First among these is archeology professor Tara Doumani, who is brought in to examine the mummified remains, and learns that its exhumation has led to the afaugh’s entry into our world from a Bronze Age alternative world called Un. With Brookes, we’re taken to that world where we get to meet two of the surviving children grown into adulthood in this primitive world. If the shift from urban horror into a Bronze Age fantasy initially seems jarring, it ultimately proves satisfying, if not for our hapless hero.
I took Hekla’s Children for an airport read as part of a recent trip across country, and when an airline snafu held me for five hours in a Tucson airport, I was definitely grateful for the 400-page book. Brogden has a crisp writing style, strong imagination and a knack for creating believable blemished characters. Recommended reading for lovers of contemporary dark fantasy: I look forward to reading more of Brogden’s novels in the comfort of my own home.