Why did I read it: I first heard about this book through The Book Smugglers. While their review made me a little wary, I wanted to read something Teen Ficthat was more about Horror and less about Romance.
When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries — before it’s too late for little Mimi.
Review: While I loved the sense of history and the eerie qualities/backstory given to the titular character… I was really disappointed by my inability to connect deeply to any of the characters, the “Same Monster, Different Day” feel to the story as a whole, and the bizarrely frequent point of view shifts in Long Lankin.
The most interesting part of Long Lankin is the story of Long Lankin and I think the historical details were the best. They were certainly the most developed as well as the most engaging sections of this rather long read. And really I think it would have made for a much creepier story. As interesting as some of the daily life moments initially were, the reader is treated to far too many passages where nothing ever happens. Not to mention far too many repetitive sections about children’s adventures in babysitting and laundry since, as with many Horror novels and movies, the monster doesn’t do very much for a very long time. In fact, a lot of my disappointment with this book stems from the fact that, outside of a creepy ballad and bizarre backstory, nothing about the plot is very distinctive or new.
I think the hardest part of the book for me was maintaining an active desire in seeing how everything panned out, and I really don’t know if teen readers will be more willing to hang in there until Long Lankin does something. The payoff is worth it in some respects, but the more everything was explained, the less I found myself being able to take the tale seriously. I was fine in terms of there being an evil undead being stealing children away and munching on their bones but I could not understand why no one thought that it was a bit weird to have kids disappear and probably die every ten to twenty years since the 1600s. The idea that no one thought to look into it until the 1950s seemed absolutely beyond ridiculous to me.
I honestly think the point of view character changed every two pages or less for the majority of the book. Maybe this was to help readers without much of an attention span? But I’m not sure even changing point of views is the way to get someone to read a book that’s nearly 500 pages long. I also understand the desire to relate other aspects of a story and trying to avoid an omniscient narrator. I just think there were much better way to impart a story. Perhaps through a prologue and maybe through a more chronological narrative that wasn’t from anyone’s point of view. Either way you look at it, I think having the reader understand what’s going on in a way that makes them eager to continue the tale in front of them is much more important than making sure the characters get what they’re up against.
The other problem with the point of view changes were that they really, really made it impossible for me to care about the characters as much as I would have liked. The kids were definitely cute and entertaining in terms of their antics. I would have liked to have been given a less unresolved ending and to know what happened next, but outside of Cora’s issues with her parents, there wasn’t anything really memorable going with any of them. It was hard to get a sense of most of their emotions or how they felt about one another, which was very problematic, particularly towards the end when Long Lankin was actively being scary and horrible towards them and it was impossible to tell just how scared they were or weren’t.
I also resented Auntie Idea who took her sweet time in doing anything to actually protect the kids from harm outside of telling them not to go to places and subsequently treating them horribly if they did. Even if she hadn’t been so awful due to guilt and despair as a result of the passive role she played in the past, I have no fondness for characters who lose tons of people in horrific ways and then hole up in an old ancestral home rather than being of any use to anyone in Byers Guerdon. You can’t always get what you want with fiction, but Auntie Ida didn’t have to be Miss Havisham. She could have been a more dynamic, feisty adult character with unexpected motives, which would have helped this book out significantly.
I get why Auntie Ida had to be there, of course. Obviously someone had to be in the town so the girls could go stay there. And I understand and actually sort of love that Horror films and novels rely on the premise that someone out there has to be dumb enough to buy a haunted house or dig up a cemetary on a full moon and disturb the hallowed resting places of the dead, but… Usually that someone doesn’t know the full details of why the house is haunted until after they move in, open something they shouldn’t, and lose most of their loved ones as a result of poor planning. And usually they don’t know they’re in a cemetary or that there was a sign warning against disturbing the bones of Old Jeremiah* until it’s too late.
Most of the time they don’t sit in a house watching various generations of ancestors get killed off by some unspeakable horror.** Or tell bored kids to stay away from an old church without any explaination as to why despite knowing full well that this won’t work because they’ve been in similar situations in the past and it hasn’t gone well to say the least. So when I encounter characters who do know basically what’s up but still insist upon doing very little of use, it makes me pretty irritated.
In conclusion, not a bad read but not a very exciting one. I would consider taking a look at Lindsey Barraclough’s next project, but Long Lankin is definitely a book that I would have put down if I hadn’t been so intrigued by the titular character and his cool, creepy backstory. Or if I hadn’t been hopeful that the ending would at least be exciting seeing as Long Lankin would have no choice but to show up for it. Still, for those looking for a slight scare or a Horror novel set in 1950s England, Long Lankin might be a tolerable way to pass the time.
How I would rate it: 2.75 out of 5 stars. Not quite a 3 for me, but close.
* Just a made-up name to use as an example.
** Unless they’re related to said unspeakable horror… Which also would have made for a more interesting story. But I digress.