Set in the thirteenth century, Something Red centers on a makeshift family trying to cross the Pennine Mountains before winter makes them impassable. Molly, the leader of the family, is an Irish exile who possesses knowledge of healing herbs and plans. Jack, her male companion, is a man of few words who provides needed brawn. Molly’s granddaughter, Nemain, and an apprentice named Hob round out the family.
On their travels through the woods, they feel a malevolence that seems to be stalking them. Nicholas, who is also a poet, does a spectacular job of describing the forest in such a way that the reader can nearly feel the trees crowding in. The forest itself becomes a character in itself—this is no peaceful glen. The novel brought to mind the forests of fairy tales—seemingly bright and sunny in some places, but full of evil when the sun goes down. The family decides to go to a monastery, where the priests have built a formidable fortress and can provide shelter for a while.
The priests and the monastery seem to be invincible, having designed a system to keep invaders out. Molly practices her healing at the monastery and has an uneasy truce with the religious men of the community. The other members of the family settle into the routines of the small town built behind the monastery walls. Everyone feels quite secure. This sense of safety proves to be an illusion, when the evil from the outside somehow works its way in.
The travelers move onto an inn and finally a castle in an attempt to outrun the evil that is clearly present in the forest. Douglas does quite a job of building the suspense and tension to draw you in. The first part of the novel, while interesting to me, did not hold the sense of uneasiness that the middle and end of the novel did. In that measure, Something Red effectively built a sense of disquiet and wonder that made me want to continue reading. I was reminded of other works that have this same sense of spookiness: The Village by M. Night Shamalan, the beginning sequence of the Game of Thrones series, and even Hansel and Gretel.
The revealing of the evil was not entirely unexpected and I cannot say that I was shocked by what was stalking the forest. I was surprised about who it was, though. Each member of the family combats the evil in their own way, with each one contributing to the final showdown.
The poetic nature of the language, the increasing of the novel’s atmospheric spook and the members of the traveling family made Something Red a winner. Very enjoyable!
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina