Hekla’s Children by James Brogden. Titan £7.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
Quite simply, I was captivated by this novel almost instantly. I admit that some may think I’m somewhat biased: I’ve known James Brogden for many years and have included some of his short stories in the magazines I edited for the British Fantasy Society, as well as publishing a collection of his finely crafted short stories (Evocations, The Alchemy Press). However, and trust me in this, if I hadn’t enjoyed Hekla’s Children I wouldn’t have read it so quickly and you wouldn’t be reading this review.
Nathan is a teacher who has a simple task, guide four teenagers round Sutton Park as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Except that he’s too infatuated with Sue and hangs back observing them from a distance. As the children cross a stream and continue trekking, he sees the terrain alter. The stream is now a river, the ground becomes a wooded hill. Yet within moments the real world returns – all except the four kids.
The following day one of them, Olivia, does reappear, disorientated, with no coherent story about where she went, where the others have disappeared to. Nathan is investigated by the police: did he do something to the children? His teaching career in the Midlands has ended and he leaves to spend nine years helping run adventure groups around the country.
Nine years: because a body, mummified in the park’s peat soil, is uncovered. The body is found to be thousands of years old – yet with signs on some of the bones that indicate 21st century surgery. Wracked with guilt, Nathan is drawn into these developments. Meanwhile, the archaeologist struggles to understand the evidence before her. The police are dumbfounded. Sue and Olivia re-enter the story, an adventure that merges the real with the spirit world of Un, a place where myths seem to originate.
This may remind you of Robert Holdstock’s masterpiece Mythago Wood and its successors. There are beings that cross realms, there are tropes and archetypes of legend – all handled in Brogden’s own inimitable style. The prose is fast-paced yet full of resonance and imagery. The characters are well fleshed and with emotions that engage the reader.
To be compared with Holdstock is a very good thing but Hekla’s Children also has echoes with novels such as Some Kind of Fairy Tale by the late great Graham Joyce, Among Others by Jo Walton and the novella by Rosanne Rabinowitz, Helen’s Story. This is Brogden’s fourth novel and marks the ever-growing talent of this fabulous writer. Hekla’s Children is excellent and by all rights should be amongst the award winners for 2018.