TITLE The Kind Folk
A NOVEL by Ramsey Campbell
PUBLICATION DATE September 2012
COVER ART Erika Steiskal
PRINT RUN unsigned
It involved a mountain so high that the clouds would nest there while they whispered to one another. At those times nobodyfrom the village in the foothills would venture near the mountain, until one day an orphan boy found a hidden path. As he made the final ascent the clouds came down to gather about him. He thought they were about to blind him so that he would lose his way or fall, but they ushered him up to their eyrie and told him secrets they’d learned in their voyages across the sky. After that he climbed the mountain whenever they were there, but failed to realise how they were changing him. If he dreamed even while he was awake he would begin to lose his shape in the manner of a cloud, and soon the villagers noticed how they couldn’t see him properly. When they drove him out he fled up the mountain, starving until the clouds returned just in time to raise him up. Once his body dissolved it was free to rove the spaces above the world. Sometimes the villagers would see him striding the mountains on legs composed of cloud and as long as the sky was tall . . .
That’s just one of the tales Luke Arnold’s uncle Terence used to tell him when Luke was a child. Now Luke is a successful stage comedian whose partner Sophie Drew is about to have their baby. Their life seems ideal until Luke begins to learn how much that he has taken for granted about his upbringing is wrong. How serious was Terence about the magic in his tales? Why did he travel so widely by himself after Luke was born, and what was he looking for? Soon Luke will have to follow that route too, and confront forces that may be older than the world . . .
Ramsey Campbell has written many kinds of horror fiction – psychological, ghostly, satirical, not to mention comedy of paranoia. Midnight Sun and The Darkest Part of the Woods reached for awe beyond the horror, and now The Kind Folk does the same.
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Mika Reads Horror Fiction-Horror book reviews from the cold, dark north.-
Back in the old days when there was still magic in the world, the fairy folk used to improve their diminishing bloodline by exchanging their offspring with human children. In The Kind Folk (2012), the fairies are corrupt shadows of their mythological selves, but the practice of changelings continues.
When a DNA test shows his biological parents aren’t somehow his, Luke is understandably mystified. Luke’s uncle, Terry, who was strangely attached to Luke, may know something, but dies before divulging any facts. However, in Terry’s house Luke discovers a semi-incoherent diary tracking the uncle’s travels throughout Britain, as well as a carving of a strange, barely human face.
Suddenly Luke, an up-and-coming comedian known for his skilful mimicry, starts to get gigs around Britain, in places that happen to correspond with the diary. And soon there are strange folk appearing at his shows, always standing in the back, twisting their hands in unnatural positions, as if signalling some secret sign. They seem to want something, and as it happens, Luke’s girlfriend Sophie is pregnant.
The Kind Folk is Campbell at his very best; it’s built on a solid mythological foundation that’s familiar enough to feel real. The silent, elongated shadows are classic Campbell, creatures that always appear in the distance, half-glimpsed, so that they could be just ordinary youths loitering around – at least until they scurry away on all four limbs or some other craziness.
There’s also the humour, as usual, striking a perfect balance with the horror; almost every sentence feels like a wound-up jack-in-the-box, ready to be sprung on the reader with a twist that might turn everything that came before it on its head. The relatively short length of the novel is just right; the narrative is rich, but nothing is overextended. Every chapter is in its right place.
And as Luke’s journey progresses, the atmosphere goes up a notch or two. The dark city streets, the ruins of abandoned houses, the lonely places of the world where something old still lingers – the night is deep and dark and full of scares, but there’s also a lot of beauty in these shadowy, almost wistful passages.
The novel ends with a perfect note of awe and wonder, as another generation steps forward. The fairies might’ve retreated back into the shadows, but with books like The Kind Folk, there’s still plenty of magic left in the world.