Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is nothing like any contemporary book I’ve read. To say that it was released a long with current reigning horror novels is crazy because it really feels like Paver would have been close personal friends with Mary Shelley and they were written together. Wakenhyrst is a true gothic novel and has everything you expect from gothic fiction.
Maud is a young girl growing up in the Fen, a swampy marshland in Suffolk, England. She seems to lead a very, very secluded life. Her only peers are the people who work for her parents. She has two brothers but she doesn’t really seem interested in them at all. She loves her mother dearly until she passes away in child-birth. Left to be ruled by her uncaring, unforgiving father. This world is one of fairytale and superstition; witches of the Fen and old-world legends are alive in this place and she needs to work out how to survive it. It drives her father to the depths of madness and she can’t go the same way.
What Paver has done here is nothing short of true magic. She build a world full of Old-English religious superstition and was clearly inspired by English wildlife. The setting is one that I’m familiar with after living in Norfolk, just north of the county of Suffolk and it was amazing to revisit it through Pavers eyes. Maud is a very introspective and aware character, she builds her life on the idea of revenge and is in no rush to get there. So long as when she does, it’s devastating. Her father, Edmund, is as close to a monster you can be. At best, he doesn’t care for his family. Reading his heavy tumble into complete madness is almost satisfying.
If you’re reading this hoping for real action then you’ll be disappointed. Like every other Gothic Fiction, Wakenhyrst is slow and calculated. The horror lies in the people and the versions of the world they have created and find themselves trapped in. Think more Frankenstein or Dracula.
I would recommend this book to literally anyone that will listen to me. Especially if you’re deeply into classic novels, this is one for your list. I truly enjoyed every minute of this novel.