Wednesday, November 28, 2018

They Mostly Come Out At Night - Benedict Patrick

So, lets talk about Benedict Patrick’s ‘They Mostly Come Out At Night’. It’s the  first book placed in the ‘Yarnsworld’ setting, which now contains three separate standalone novels. Having sped through this one, I can safely say it was an entertaining read, that it made me think, and that it inspired me to seek out the other books in the same setting.

Speaking of which. The setting here is at once broad and limited. Most of the action takes place in and around a forest, an entity implied to have presence over a large geographic area. And it abuts neighbouring kingdoms, themselves geographically distinct. As in a fairy tale though, this is just the forest. It’s a backdrop to the culture, lives and loves of our protagonist(s). In the forest sits a village – itself one of a series of settlements. And somewhere out of sight, somewhere in the forest and away from the villages, sits a castle. This is a world which carefully evokes that fairytale certainty of place, but also one which puts something of a spin on it. The villagers are bucolic enough, but they fear attacks from mysterious entities in the night, protecting themselves with underground shelters. The castle isn’t the delicately spired confection of modern stories, but a buttressed fortress. The forest is a dark, brooding, wild thing, and within it lurk monsters.
It’s also a place where stories have power. Between chapters, we’re treated to scraps of folklore, tales from the world. These give the reader a nicely mythic context for current events, shaping the story into one which fits into prior narratives. It’s a clever device, and one which made learning more of the background a delight, rather than drudgery.

The sense of myth and tale is evoked intentionally with the characters, too. Some are personifications – the Wolves, seemingly slavering beasts. The Magpie King, a cloaked, masked, super-human monstrosity which protects the villages from the Wolves, and expects tribute in return. These are ideas given form; here though they have enough agency to make them some combination of frightening and fascinating. 

There are others though. Adahy, child of the Magpie King, uncertain of his destiny, of his calling to be the monster people demand, sits in the shadow of a father with an iron will. And Lonan, a young man who lives in the liminal area between family and outcast in one of the villages. Both give us more humanity than monstrousness, though both carry their own flaws. Adahy is compassionate, thoughtful and a worrier – but also often unthinking of his privilege or the effect he has on the world. Lonan is bitter, caustic, driven to the social margins by a close-knit community that feels he’s done them a great wrong; but he’s also driven, determined, and willing to do what’s right. They’re a complex pair, and even more so when rounded out by the supporting cast. Particular points for Lonan’s mentor, whose non-nonsense attitude when dealing with his drama made her a brilliant read, and Adahy’s ex whipping-boy, a young man willing to risk a lot for his friend, and whose own intelligence and back and forth with Adahy make him a likable fellow to run alongside.

The gut of this is, there are people here, and monsters, and the story wants us to see not only which are which, but that it’s possible for one to transition into the other. This is a story of how monsters do mostly come out at night. Mostly It’s got a lot going on, within the cantic rythms of a fairy tale. There’s betrayal, blood, vicious fights for survival. There’s love, and revenge, and hatred. It hits a lot of the right emotional notes, and I was quickly invested in where the characters were going, physically and in terms of growth, and who they would become when they got there. This has the whip-crack fas-paced action that keeps you turning pages, sure, but it’s wrapped around some thoughtful, convincing character work – and the folktale lilt of the prose makes it an easy read, even if some of the content is more gruesome than Grimm.

Is it any good though? Yes, I’d say so. As a story, it will pull you into its dark corners, looking for salvation from wolves and monsters, while speaking about the larger human truths of love and vengeance and dripping blood on the forest floor. This is a story which is hard to put down, where you want to see how it ends. It’s a great start to a series, and I look forward to seeing where the next Yarnsworld book takes us.

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