The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray Review
Zeppelins Drone In The Skies, Horse And Carriage Is The Main Mode Of Transportation, Mental Asylums Are Common And Women Behave Properly.
Title: The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray
Author: Chris Wooding
Now, this is one of those books that I feel sits between teenage/young adult fiction and “grown-up” fantasy. Why? Because there are several parts of it that scare the hell out of me! Now, for reference, Shaun of the Dead scared me, Dr Who generally makes me hide behind a cushion and the trailer for The Woman in Black made me scream. So I am happy to acknowledge that this book is not strictly horror, but if you are of a sensitive disposition then bits of the book may creep you out.
It is set in a kind of Victorian London, after a war against the Prussian Empire that Britain did not win. Zeppelins drone in the skies, horse and carriage is the main mode of transportation, mental asylums are common and women behave properly. Most of the time anyway. Oh yes, and there are the wych kin. Monsters that snatch babies from their bed, that attach themselves to you and kill you, and generally make life rather dangerous. They were thought to be fictional, the result of shell-shock from the war, but no, they turned out to be real and very unpleasant. There are three types, corporeal (as in you can physically kill them), non-corporeal (they tend to defy the laws of physics and are hard to dispose of) and greater (you don’t want to come across one of these).
Thaniel is a seventeen year old wych hunter, one of the youngest and the best. His parents are dead, his father was a very famous wych-hunter and has trained Thaniel. He works alongside Cathaline a rather unconventional young woman and a friend of his father, and everything is rattling along as normal until a strange blonde girl enters his life. Everything then begins to get interesting, as Thaniel has to deal with possession, evil spirits, corrupt government and a plot to take over the world.
Thaniel is a remarkable seventeen year old, who is able to keep his composure admirably in a variety of situations. He is likable, if a little withdrawn. His tale seems a little stereotypical in the beginning; he has no family and is immersed in his work of hunting down and destroying wych-kin until a pretty girl enters his life. He is able to judge character well, if a little late at times, and is immune to wych-powers because of his wych-sense, a hereditary power from his father that enables him to locate and track the wych-kin.
Running parallel to the story of Alaizabel Cray is that of police hunting the murderous Stitch-Face, and this tale seems to be tied up with Alaizabel's story. Stitch-Face is to some extent the antihero of the tale – yes, he shouldn’t be going around murdering people, however he is doing it for a reason.... it seems plausible that in this alternate world, he is Jack the Ripper as he only targets women for his kills.
Alaizabel is perhaps not the most likable of damsels in distress. She begins with very few memories of whom she is, where she comes from, and is generally afraid of everything. Thaniel decides to help her in recovering her memories, and the reason that she cannot remember becomes an integral part of the tale, hinting at corruption on a massive scale, up to the top levels of the government.
The book is peppered with intriguing characters, such as the beggar lords and devil boy Jack, alongside the wych-kin themselves. These are fascinating, with enough about them to feel like genuine folk tales. The evocative description of the Draug, or Drowned Folk, despite only appearing twice in the text is incredibly unnerving, and the appearance of Rawbread scared me. You know when you are walking, and think you hear footsteps, so turn around? Yeah, if you do that three times, Rawbread can claim you, by jumping on your back and killing you. Nice. This is partly why as far as I’m concerned, this is not to be dismissed as a children’s book. The finale of the book is tense and well plotted, though I did feel a little like there should be a sequel. Or at least another chapter! No-one’s story is wrapped up too neatly, it does feel like there are some loose ends. The final discovery of where the wych-kin come from is interesting, and could have been expanded more. The fighting within the text is well done, though Alaizabel’s response to everything she is involved with did annoy me, and it would have been nice if she’d grown a spine before the finale.
In conclusion, a creepy book. Intriguing plot that could have done with expansion in places, wonderfully tense in places and with a decent cast of characters. It is technically a young adult book, which may explain the lack of expansion of certain plot points in an attempt to avoid over complication. Definitely worth a read, a nice lunchtime, or bath time book, where you want something diverting, but not too frightening!
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