Revenants

Revenants by Daniel Mills
In 1689, on the northern boundary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, lies the village of Cold Marsh. On the surface it's an ordinary village of ordinary settler folk enduring hardship and hard work to make lives for themselves, but the otherwise good people of this out-of-the-way village harbour a guilty secret. Fourteen years ago during King Philip's War, the men of the village took up arms against their neighbours, a peaceful Native Indian tribe, and in a moment of darkest rage, massacred every man, woman and child in the encampment. Now, a different sort of darkness has visited those same villagers. Two young women have disappeared in mysterious circumstances, rumours of witchcraft and devilry are running rife and a terrible guilt has visited the population of Cold Marsh who suspect that even God has abandonded them. When a third young woman goes missing the men leave their safe homes and go in search of her, deep into the woods, where the ghosts of their unspeakable past will come to haunt each and every one them.

Revenants is a fascinating book in many ways, slow-burning and in no rush to get going it takes its time laying the foundations of village life in colonial America, setting the scene with glimpses into the complex personal lives of the central characters. It paints a picture of simple folk so far away from the 'real world' and it's civilised and probably more 'enlightened' mores, that they have become chastened by puritanical evangelism and led into god-fearing habits by an oppressive and mean-spirited minister. All of this is set against a backdrop of dense woods and open plains that cleverly mirrors the extremes of the two worlds, and would likely be hard to find in modern times, and the whole is written in a near perfect prose style that artfully mimics the writing of the time and adds nice touches of depth and atmosphere to the story.

The main characters are nicely rounded and the lesser ones, while simplistic, are given enough depth to suit their parts in the story. The dialogue is sparse and conversations are short which suits the period of the piece perfectly, but it's as the search for the missing girl gets under way and the men leave the confines of the miserable but relatively safe village for the oppressive and terror-filled woods that the story really begins to take off. Mills balances the atmosphere of the place with the superstition of the men perfectly, enveloping the reader in a fug of malevolence, fear and guilt that elevates this beyond mere mystery into something much more, something that pays off in spades when we finally learn the reasons for all that has gone before.

Try Revenants if you can, it does demand that you take your time and pay attention but it's a better book for it, and will reward the patient reader with a story that will linger in the mind long after the last page has been closed.

Revenants is published by Chomu Press and is available from The Book Depository, Blackwell and all good book stores.

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