Note: I received an advance e-book edition of Wylding Hall from the publisher, Open Road Media, for review consideration.
At last, an Elizabeth Hand book suited to my needs! In the past when I have tried books by Elizabeth Hand, most of those attempts undocumented in this space because writing “meh” reviews is boring, I have found her books either dull or unsatisfying. But her new book, Wylding Hall, makes the most of its ellipses, letting the reader’s mind fill them with the very spookiest of explanations.
Wylding Hall is set up as an oral history of the famed (fictional) acid folk album by the band Windhollow Faire. Their manager, Tom, sets the band up in a tumble-down mansion in rural England, with orders that they spend the summer there working on their second album after the all-right-ish-but-not-exceptional performance of their first. We know from the start that something happened that summer to Julian, the lead guitarist. It’s just a slow, creepy build to find out what.
And creepy it damn well is. British folk magic is afoot here, as Julian prowls about the (if not exactly haunted, certainly not unhaunted) hidden tunnels and back rooms of Wylding Hall. When he emerges, it’s to bring new, chilling, beautiful arrangements of old folk songs for the band.
Your mileage may vary, of course, as to what you consider scary. Personally, my favorite scary tropes are all haunted house and British folk magic ones, where the houses have creepy rooms (in this one, a room full of dead birds) and secret passageways, and the old British codgers tell the young skeptics urgently to Stay Out of the Woods. Elizabeth Hand brings all this and more, including a scene with some photos that’s telegraphed pages in advance but that still managed to send chills up my spine and give me nightmares after I finished the book.
And if I may, a word about Open Road Media. I love Open Road Media. It just makes me happy that they exist. They make ebook versions of so many books that I adore (Mary Renault, in particular, and Patricia C. Wrede’s adult fantasy novels), and they have a killer sale every Christmas. Way to go, y’all! Way to add value to the universe!