Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.
Hand-grenades fashioned from condensed milk tins; shotguns tracking winged shapes through dark forests; inscrutable conversations overheard from hidden passageways; creatures and beings from another place, inscrutable, impossible. As you read this book, the taint of moss and gun smoke is tangible.
The Honours is the first novel by poet and author Tim Clare, following thirteen year old Delphine Venner in Norfolk 1935 as she tries to unravel a mysterious cult-like organisation (are they Bolsheviks? Anarchists? Republicans!?). This society have set up operation in a sprawling country estate replete with dodgy accents, hidden passages, secret tunnels, and dark secrets. Delphine’s damaged father and insipid mother have taken her to live here, amongst the society, the only child in a morass of desperate adults. As Delphine struggles to fill her days and fight her isolation she spends more and more time spying on her mysterious companions, cutting keys and stealing mail. Her friendship with the damaged groundskeeper Mr Garforth is scant solace, but at least provides ample training in shotguns and hunting traps.
This slow burning first half establishes Delphine as a piteous figure, spirited and full of righteous anger but ultimately lonely and largely ignored. A peppering of odd occurrences and mysterious figures keep the narrative driving forward, and the second half of the novel picks up pace incredibly quickly and soon a Lovecraftian horror thriller is unfolding, culminating towards a series of revelations showing the society to be far stranger and potentially dangerous than anything Delphine could have conceived of. This pace shift is deftly handled and the deluge of creatures and concepts that emerge between the action set-pieces are never less than intriguing. Delphine as a character ran the risk of being unsympathetic (so brave, so very clever!) but she is wrought with such flaws and pathos that she is impossible to dislike.
Throughout this novel Clare’s descriptive prose and extensive research help anchor the narrative firmly in time and place which contrasts excellently with the otherworldly intrusions to come. Any fans of Mervyn Peake, H.P. Lovecraft, or China Miéville will certainly enjoy this well-crafted gem, proudly showcasing elements of classic horror and weird fiction. Check it out.