Terror at the Tor


Marco’s Pendulum
by Thom Madley
Usborne 2006

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

16 thoughts on “Terror at the Tor

  1. I am a very keen Rickman fan – rereading one at present – so will watch out for those.
    The twittish reviewers are quite content to have children immersed in bloody biblical myths, but jib at that?
    Reminds me – I want to do a brief review on a post-Sword-of-Truth-series book by Terry Goodkind.


    1. There is a species of online reviewer (almost entirely North American, I’ve noticed) that are rather puritanical in their attempt to protect pure and ‘unformed’ minds from literature that might possibly pervert them more than a diet of daily news and unfettered advertising.

      As both parent and teacher (and, above all, human being) I’m all for child protection, but you’d certainly have to ban the Old Testament to start with, with its descriptions of unspeakable practices and man’s callous inhumanity to man. (I’m using the term ‘man’ advisedly of course.)

      Not yet tried Terry Goodkind, Col. Ought to sometime I suppose.


  2. It is hot, and I have become sidelined by the strapline on your link. “Not just for kids!”
    Reminds me of the Hudsucker Proxy. You know, for kids.
    I’m not thinking in a linear fashion….


    1. Haven’t seen The Hudsucker Proxy yet but your enigmatic reference has got me intrigued, now that I’ve read up a bit about it! Your comment about your non-linear thinking could be about the circular images in the film.

      Or it could be that the heat has got to your brain maybe?


    1. Yes, I’ve been a little lukewarm in my praise, haven’t I? I’m not a fan of horror: I went through all that Lovecraftian stuff when I was in my early twenties and it mostly doesn’t interest me any more other than in a vaguely academic way. And as this allegedly had a modern take on an Arthurian theme I felt I had to give it a try.

      My advice is, if you’ve got a pile of novels just begging to be read then make them, and not this, a priority!


      1. I was quite grateful to Legion of Door Whores for reblogging….I loved his pictures…Glad to have you aboard…my blog is much more eclectic , but I hope you can find posts you will enjoy! Namaste. . .. Anne 😎


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