August 26, 2010

If You Go Down To The Woods Today.... (Review: Immortal Remains by Rook Hastings)

Immortal Remains
Rook Hastings
Harper Collins 2010


Four freak accidents. Four mysterious deaths. Four signs of trouble. Welcome back to Weirdsville! Four girls from posh school Riverbank have been killed in seemingly random but freakish ways and it's not long before Bethan and co. are lured into investigating the grisly case. Is it really just coincidence or is there something more sinister going on? Meanwhile Hashim's playing truant, Kelly's on the warpath and Jay's trying to avoid someone even more close to home! Himself. Scary, paranormal and supernaturally chilling experiences are everyday in a town like Weirdsville! (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I didn't sleep last night. Usually this would be the fault of my delightfully insomniacal two year old, Lady M, but not this time. No, this time the blame lies squarely at the door of Rook Hastings and her new book, Immortal Remains. I reviewed the first book in the Weirdsville series, Nearly Departed, several months ago. I enjoyed it very much, despite finding its council estate setting depressingly real. Every single character got right under my skin and the spooky (but not particularly terrifying) story was a bonus track on an already headily disturbing mix of gang violence, domestic abuse and poverty. Immortal Remains is completely different – having introduced us to her cast Rook Hastings has layered on the terror with abandon.

Character wise, all the old faces are still about. As with Nearly Departed, I felt most drawn to the character of Kelly. She so easily could have been written as tough-girl-with-heart-of-gold but her characterisation is much subtler. She isn't always kind to her friends, she is unable to escape from her violent father and is severely lacking in tact but this makes her incredibly real. The back story of her missing mother adds pathos to her character and the scenes in which she is scared are all the more frightening due to the fact that she seems to fear so little. Hashim featured less in this installment, but is still the most enigmatic of the bunch – desperately fighting a destiny that he cannot escape. Again, he is not faultless and I particularly liked the dichotomy created by his loyalty and opposing cowardice. Again, he is a very believable character. Jay continues to be likable, although his sunny nature has suffered since the events of Nearly Departed. However, I liked his character development and was relieved to see that he had not been consigned permanently to the role of lovable geek. The only character that I didn't feel moved on much was Bethan. She seems almost superfluous to the plot – only interrupting the story line to provide useful exposition. However, her crush on Jay is so superbly realised by the author that I actually found it hard to read due to it reminding me so much of my own teendom. This, and every single recognisable everyday scenario, along with a cast of kids you could meet on any street play a massive role in the success of Immortal Remains.

As far as the plot is concerned, it's all fairly straightforward and familiar to any ghost story aficionado. Ouija board? Yup. Spooky old building? Check. Dark and stormy nights? You betcha. Terrifying trees in windy woods? Hell, yes! This is pivotal to why Immortal Remains works so well. Rook Hastings skilfully drew us into her characters world in Nearly Departed, letting us get to know them and – vitally – painting both them and their lives incredibly realistically. From the council estate setting to the Tesco trainers (sorry, Americans – Google it), I could have gone to school with any of the characters. After Nearly Departed, I liked them, empathised with them and felt like I knew them. Importantly, I was emotionally invested in every single one only to find that, in Immortal Remains, they are suddenly confronted with every single terror that frightened me as a kid. There is nothing hugely new in the scenario that they face but this is exactly what makes it so absolutely terrifying – because, reading this, I just knew what was coming which led me to read the book in a state of complete and utter tension. There were several moments at which I almost didn't want to keep reading. A scene of note finds Kelly in a tower block corridor, paralysed by fear of some unseen force yet unable to run as the lights behind her systematically fail. It's like every bad dream you've ever had.

Where Nearly Departed used the estate setting as the greatest source of menace and fear, Immortal Remains has furthered the paranormal aspect so successfully that the estate now seems almost a place of comfort. It is a testament to the author's skill that she has woven both the normal and the paranormal together so tightly. Recently I have been disappointed by several new ghost stories. Some attempt a traditional take on scary stories with little success, and still more confuse fear with horror. Immortal Remains makes none of these mistakes. Rook Hastings has successfully taken old terrors and placed them in a modern setting with staggering results – I highly recommend this title. Just don't expect to sleep.

Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this title to review. I'll be billing you for the additional electricity I have to use to keep my bedroom lamp lit all night...


3 comments:

asamum said...

I love the way you write your reviews:D
Do you know what I put in my review of Nearly Departed....'not for those afraid of the dark...lol.
I think I will be adding to that with Immortal Remains - thanks again for the loan :D

Lauren said...

This review has absolutely reminded me just how much I enjoyed the first book in this series - and how genuinely scary it was. Now I'm extra glad that I have a copy of this one in the TBR pile. I love the marriage of real scares with such a bleak setting too.

Rhiana said...

'Immortal Remains has furthered the paranormal aspect so successfully that the estate now seems almost a place of comfort' ...ok, I'll be sure not to read this one all alone late at night. It must be scary if the estate suddenly seems almost comfortable! Fantastic review!