by Thom Madley
The cover blurb gives it away: Is the Holy Grail buried at Glastonbury, or something much darker? Well, of course, you know the answer to that, because this would otherwise be a rather tame young adult novel.
Townies Marco and Rosa find themselves separately set down in Somerset, both saddled with parents who don’t seem to understand them and set about both by bullies and by strange and very unsettling psychic experiences.
Pretty soon they find themselves thrown together and flung into a claustrophobic labyrinth under Glastonbury itself (reminiscent of the endings of both Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen) in a narrative that is hard to put down and preferably not to be read at night. Well, not by adults anyway.
Thom Madley is better known as Phil Rickman, writer of the highly regarded Merrily Watkins mysteries set in the Welsh Marches. Here he uses the same technique for the Somerset town, skilfully mixing real locations with imagined locales and reality itself with imagined terrors, rather in the manner of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (which must have inspired Madley’s own title if not its atmosphere).
If you like slightly Gothick horror stories then this may be for you: I was marginally thrilled but only faintly engaged, and not really convinced by the grail proffered for our consideration. Some online reviews seem to think the themes of horror and mentions of Satanism, along with perceptions that the author has pagan sympathies and an anti-Christian bias, make this novel unsuitable for young adults; this may be why more recent editions have dropped the Madley pseudonym, so as to appeal to fans of Rickman’s adult titles.
There is a sequel, Marco and the Blade of Night, which also picks up on an Arthurian theme. Without having read the book (I certainly haven’t, as yet) you can nevertheless guess which sword they’re talking about. Or possibly not…
Review first published 20th July 2013 and reposted for Wyrd and Wonder