Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand

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!

  • Sounds like I would not be able to sleep if reading this! :–)

    • Hahahaha, it’s okay. It’s creepy in the way that, like, Brenna Yovanoff is creepy. When I say it gave me nightmares, it was like — haunted house nightmares. Scary in the moment, but not the kind that when I wake up from it, I can’t get back to sleep.

  • Oooh, my favorite mysterious and scary tropes! This one is definitely going on my list!

  • Kim Aippersbach

    Slightly different take on the old scarey house; I love the idea of the acid folk band! But, nightmares? I don’t know. I like a certain amount of creepy, but I don’t do horror. Is this one going to scar me forever?!

    • No, no, no. Not at all! I meant that it’s scary in a way that I enjoy, but since I am a wuss, intense scariness is not enjoyable for me. I like things at about the Shirley Jackson level of scariness: creepy details, but nothing that’ll keep me up at nights.

  • Christy

    Those are the elements I enjoy in a creepy book as well. I tried Elizabeth Hand once before, with Mortal Love, but within the first ten pages or so, I realized it wasn’t my thing and put it down. Maybe this book would stick better.

    • Yeah, I’ve not read Mortal Love, but the others of her books I’ve tried have not been successes. This one wasn’t perfect but I enjoyed it a LOT. It’s right right right in my wheelhouse.

  • Did you ever see The Watcher in the Woods? That movie scared the crap out of me when I was little.

    Anyway, pretty sure I downloaded this despite previous issues with Hand’s writing.

    • I have never seen it! in general I am too much of a scaredy-cat for horror movies. I can just about do SOME horror books, as long as they aren’t too intensely scary.

  • helen from a gallimaufry

    Oooh, I was a bit put off Elizabeth Hand by Mortal Love, I quite liked her writing but I felt she strayed onto the wrong side of the silly line just a bit too much for my taste, and that was sad because I really wanted to like the book, perhaps it was just the wrong moment. Now I am tempted. Although how nightmarish are the nightmares? I’ve just read my first Shirley Jackson, you know, and the nightmares after that are moderate. Will Wylding Hall nightmares be milder or stronger, on such a scale? 🙂

    • Exactly! Exactly that scale, I think! It’s a smidge more explicit about some of the scary stuff, but it’s very much the same kind of thing.

  • Stefanie!SoManyBooks

    Ooh, creepy but not scary? I ask because I get nightmares. So where would you say this falls on a continuum between Shirley Jackson and The Exorcist?

  • I love Open Road Media too! I haven’t read too many of their books but loved the ones I did read. This one – not too sure about it yet but it does sound pretty fascinating. I will probably keep it in mind for when I am looking for a scary book to read.

  • Jeanne

    I’ve never liked her books before either, but I do very much enjoy the detail about the room full of dead birds.