THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS By Chuck Wendig
Del Rey p/b £13.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
Ramble Rocks are a natural landscape feature set on a geological fault line. In this reality, they exist in a national park, while those inclined to the Divine Spirit ponder on a thin place `causing strangeness in the woods’.
Liminal locations are a common trope in ghost stories, and Chuck Wendig shamelessly deploys many other similar devices in the content of this tale. At the same time, the plot develops in a layered form introducing new aspects to the tale as the means to building tension. This literary ploy is not uncommon among the best horror writers who gradually introduce characters, build their personalities in mundane contexts in order to set up the reader with their favourites.
Wendig manages, just about, to avoid tedium in this stage of the story, but it does take almost half the novel before the reader can fully grasp what the tale involves. Even then, the great majesty of the plot is not revealed until the climax. Mind you, it is then that the reader derives the full benefit of having stuck with the book. It is magnificent.
The principal character is a youth called Oliver whose presence in parallel realities has been terminated by demonic forces. In this reality, the same violence is directed at him. You see, Oliver is a true sensitive, which means he is far more than a gentle and considerate guy, but a person who learns to read both the good and bad in others. He possesses all the optimism and naivety of a young person not yet fully adult.
Oliver’s mother, Maddie, is outwardly a frustrated artist who is totally unaware that she is actually a proper witch capable of transforming her creations into sentient creatures. The development potential for this strong character is enormous.
Then there is Nate, Oliver’s father, who is a former policeman and abused by his father as a child. He focuses on struggling with the straight and narrow despite all the pressures of parenthood and bread-winning.
These three find themselves living in a strange landscape occupied by monstrous humans who disguise themselves behind any veneer that suits them. These are their neighbour Jed who has all the skills of Judas, the local ghost of the serial-killer Edmund Walker Reese, and a young man named Jake, who is a parallel Oliver from another dimension possessed by a destructive demon intent on collapsing all realities.
The Book of Accidents is a grimoire composed by some unfortunate in another reality inspired by that same resident demon keen to use the liminality of Ramble Rocks to forward his vile scheme. Accidentally, or should one say ironically, this document provides Oliver with the key to unravelling the puzzle.
Wendig has bolted all these elements together into a tale in which a mine tunnel plays a significant role in binding chaotic, parallel realities together. It is a solid piece of literary work.
In truth, it is also an old, old tale of gentle heroism, sacrificial courage and transcendence presented in a modern context. There is little doubt that C S Lewis would have become a great fan. The climax leaves the reader almost ecstatic, satisfied and uplifted. This is good work and excellent value, but you have to stick with it!