BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young girl tests the local legends about bringing the dead back to life.
PROS: Moody atmosphere;
CONS: There’s never any question as to where the story is going.
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable ride, even if you know where you’re going.
For good, spooky October reading, you could do way worse than Isis, Douglas Clegg’s short novel about a young girl who tests the local legends about bringing the dead back to life. That girl, born of an American mother and English father, is Iris Catherine Villiers, who leads an idyllic life until her family moves to the UK. Iris has 3 older brothers, the eldest of which is hardly around. The other two are twins; Harvey (the Good brother who spends a lot of time with Iris) and Spence, the brother who teases and plays tricks on her. Their new home at Belerion Hall is bristling with legend about the nearby family tombs, where it is said that dark forces are listening to those who would seek to bring the dead back to life. Unfortunately for Iris, she gets to test that legend.
A story like this cannot succeed without setting the right tone. To his credit, Clegg does a great job at creating an atmosphere as dark and gloomy as the underground caves of Iris’ ancestors. A couple of elements come into play to make that happen, including the old groundskeeper who knows all the local legends and stories. Also helpful in that regard is Iris’ unfortunate family life, specifically her bed-ridden mother and absentee father. Characterizations also help endear Iris to the reader. Iris’ brotherly love for Harvey is key; Harvey spends lots of time with Iris and they become close. At one point, they enact a play in which Isis (played by Iris) brings Osiris (Harvey) back from the dead.
Well, it’s no surprise where the story is going then, is it? That’s perhaps my biggest beef with this story. There is never any question as to where the story is going. Nevertheless, it’s the atmosphere and Clegg’s engaging prose that carry the story. Knowing the destination is not a problem if the ride to get there is notably enjoyable, like it is here.