Winterset Hollow, by Jonathan Durham
Are you having a good week so far?
Today, I’m happy to share my review of Winterset Hollow, a stunning Fantasy-Horror novel by Jonathan Durham.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
Set in the United States, Winterset Hollow follows John Eamon Buckley and his friends Mark and Caroline as they make a pilgrimage to Addington Manor. There, they plan to pay their respects to the author of Winterset Hollow, a children’s book which played an important role in each of their lives. John, in particular, feels that the story ‘saved him from himself.’
When the trio stay late to snoop around the grounds of Addington’s estate, they uncover an unexpected surprise: the creatures from Winterset Hollow are real and very much alive. However, something feels off about the manor and its unusual residents, like there is some dark, unseen presence which has not yet made itself known. This feeling is further emphasized by statements such as, ‘Or maybe in a pinch, any death would do.’ Here, the author foreshadows the events to come, using subtle word choices to hint at darker motives.
With Addington Manor’s dark secrets soon revealed, Eamon and his friends must find a way to leave the island, or risk losing their lives.
The characters really came alive in this book. Not only were there human characters, but also anthropomorphic characters pulled out of Addington’s own pages (a story within a story, if you will.) In total, there were nine main characters, each of which I will briefly discuss below.
John Eamon Buckley (known as ‘Eamon’ to friends) is a twenty-three-year-old man who spent his childhood being raised by a paranoid father out in the woods. He has since become a bit of a loner, who values deep connections and meaning in life. Throughout the story, Eamon proved to be resourceful and nature-smart, able to traverse an entire island with little difficulty. He also seemed lost, not knowing who gave birth to him, or the general origins of his family. Addington’s story, Winterset Hollow, was a way for him to fill the void in his life, to find a sense of connection in the pages of a fable that he didn’t get in real life. Over the course of the story, Eamon goes from being a timid and seemingly sensitive individual, to a courageous young man who did everything he could to survive.
Mark, one of Eamon’s best friends is introduced as a typical jock-like figure, being broadly-built and extroverted, sometimes too confident for his own good. He had a jokey presence to him and at times seemed a tad impulsive, however, he came through for those close to him when it really mattered.
Caroline, Eamon’s other best friend was athletic and bookish, a combination which don’t often appear together. Throughout the story, she proved to be a deeply empathetic and compassionate character, who always did right by others when she could. Her more feminine nature helped to balance the book, lending a softer perspective on the key happenings of the novel.
The Residents of Addington Manor
We now turn to the residents of Addington manner: Runny Rabbit, Phineas Fox, Flakwell Frog, Bing the Bear, and finally, Olivia the Owl.
Runny Rabbit came across as wistful and wise beyond compare, having seen so much during his time at the manor. He seemed the most reasonable of all the residents and appeared exhausted of life, as though he were constantly longing for the peace of nothing, to simply let go and be allowed to rest.
Phineas Fox provided a stark contrast to Runny. He was cunning and cynical, with a keen intelligence and vengeful nature. He had a flare for the dramatic, often making things theatrical in his own way. He was also a deeply proud creature who seemed far too full of himself. In the end, this pride would be his unmaking.
Flakwell Frog was less fleshed out than Runny or Phineas. He was a professional cook who seemed gentle at first meeting. You could tell he cared deeply for his friend Runny and his subsequent opinion of the goings on at the manor, however, he also had his own grudges which seemed difficult to shake.
Next, we meet Bing, the Builder Bear. At first meeting, we see Bing sat watching a movie screen, where he appears passive and almost cuddly. However, as time progresses, we see a much more ferocious side to the giant as he tears things apart and enacts cruel orders given by the other residents.
In addition, we meet Olivia the Owl, a wise and somewhat amusing character who only appears in a few chapters. Olivia seemed to represent the hope for a better future as she did her best to warn Eamon and friends, and subsequently worked to help them escape. She in particular holds a place in my heart for her deep introspection and need to repent for the things she says her kind have done. Of all the beings at the manor, she is the only one (barr Runny) who seemed to express remorse for their past actions.
One Final Character: Edward Addington (Author of Winterset Hollow)
There is still one more character to discuss and that is Edward Addington, the deceased writer of Winterset Hollow. From the onset of Eamon’s journey, he and his friends idolize Addington as though he were a God among men. Countless people who read his story have developed an infatuation with a man they’ve never met. However, this beloved author proves not to be what they thought. Through learning more about Addington’s hobbies and lifestyle, Eamon comes to see that he was a cruel man. Addington butchered the animals of Winterset Hollow that he so lovingly wrote about, despite promising to spare them if Runny and the others came back to entertain his guests at his manor. It was fascinating to learn of the deceptive persona Addington gave off with his book and to learn the truth of his real character and motives.
There were so many wonderful things about this book. As such, I’ve included a bulleted list below.
- I enjoyed the poem at the start. It had a tragic sense of finality to it, despite being a children’s book.
- The author creates a fictional masterpiece within another work of fiction.
- The author’s use of third person close narration allows the reader to be privy to Eamon’s innermost thoughts and feelings, as well as Runny and the other manor residents. Additionally, the narration sometimes shifts to third person omniscient, to provide a broader scope of the events taking place.
- There is great attention to detail, providing an elaborate description of Addington Manor and the traditions surrounding it. The book was beautifully written and evocative.
- The author made excellent use of foreshadowing to hint at darker things to come.
- The story is told with a posh, old-fashioned tone to the words, which re-created a certain time period in respect to Addington Manor. Even its remaining residents talk with a sort of 1930s upper class American diction.
- The author uses a sophisticated vocabulary that possesses a certain richness.
- The scenes are well evoked, with an emotional depth and dramatic feel to them. The climax of the story was particularly striking in the way it unfolded.
I couldn’t identity any negatives with this piece of literature.
As always, I kept my eyes open for any especially riveting quotes and Winterset Hollow did not disappoint.
Below are four quotes which caused me to stop and think.
1) ‘It’s been said that you should never meet your heroes, but I say better to know whom you place on that pedestal.’
2) ‘Our pasts may be filled with horrors, but if we can just find a little common ground…perhaps… perhaps our futures might be free of them. Perhaps our present too.’
3) ‘Isn’t it funny how we learn to cope? The things we’re taught without knowing it.’
4) ‘I am not immune to problems and wants and needs…the only difference between me and them is that I have the means to indulge these things…and the status to be free of the consequences.’ (Edward Addington.)
Overall, I found Winterset Hollow to be an intriguing and wonderfully crafted piece of fiction. Themes of nature, heritage, freedom, and vengeance were woven seamlessly throughout the story. Additionally, the characters and setting brought the author’s ideas to life in an unforgettable way. Each Addington Manor resident was vibrant, but also sombre in a way, each dwelling on the past and what once was- never to be again.
Mr Durham has created a remarkable story with another enchanting tale nestled within.
My Rating: 5 stars, easily.
I would highly recommend this book to lovers of mesmerizing fantasy-horror novels.
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