- Devil’s Day.
- Andrew Michael Hurley.
- 304 pages.
- Fiction / Gothic / Contemporary.
- My Rating: It’s OK Book Review.
Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the Lancashire farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep from the moors. Generally, very little changes in the Briardale Valley, but this year things are different. His grandfather – known to everyone as the Gaffer – has died and John’s new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time.
Every year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper but also through the remembrance of folk tales, family stories and timeless communal rituals which keep the sheep safe from the Devil. This year, though, the determination of some members of the community to defend those boundary lines has strengthened, and John and Katherine must decide where their loyalties lie, and whether they are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to join the tribe…
Gripping, unsettling and beautifully written, Andrew Michael Hurley’s new novel asks how much we owe to tradition, and how far we will go to belong.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review.
Where to begin?! I honestly don’t know! Devil’s Day is like nothing that I’ve ever read before!
Just over one hundred years ago a blizzard struck in the Endlands. Bad luck and ill omens befell the community and resulted in the subsequent deaths of a score of the local villagers and farmers.
The devil was blamed, the farmers had been gathering their sheep on the moors and it was believed that the devil had killed one of the sheep, wore the fleece and then hid amongst the flock coming down from the moors in the guise of a sheep. After the flock arrived down in the Endlands the devil being able to shape-shift then jumped from animal to animal, human to human and went from farm to farm and house to house causing havoc and spreading disease and death.
Every year since that fateful day the families of the Endlands have partaken in the tradition of Devil’s Day the day before the Gathering (the day when the farmers bring the sheep down from the moors). The idea of Devil’s Day is to call the devil down from the moors, to eat, drink, tell tales and sing. It’s a day to celebrate the devil and follow the Endlands ritual so that the following day the sheep can be safely gathered.
John Pentecost grew up in the Endlands before moving away to university and then to pursue a career in teaching. Each year John comes back to participate in the Devil’s Day festivities and to help with the Gathering.
This year, sadly, John’s grandfather the Gaffer has recently passed away and John and his wife Kat will be coming down not only for Devil’s Day and the Gathering but also the sombre affair of the Gaffer’s funeral too.
Returning to his home brings back emotions and memories for John. This year both the call of the land and the familial responsibilities John feels towards his father now that the Gaffer is gone are growing. Where once he wanted to escape life in the Endlands John now finds himself being lured back and wanting to stay permanently in his ancestral home thanks to the ties that bind. It’s ingrained in John’s blood whereas Kat just wants to endure the visit and return to her normal life away from the Endlands as soon as possible.
The location and setting are very much as important if not more so than any of the human characters that appear in Devil’s Day. The Endlands plays a huge part in the whole book as the entire way of life for the close-knit farming community and inhabitants of the area revolve around the rituals and superstitions as folklore and traditions abound in the harshness that is the isolated and rural Endlands. For me, I’d even go as far as to say that the setting is the focal point of the entire story as Hurley’s vivid and descriptive writing really bring the landscape to life on the pages and makes the Endlands a rather bleak but very evocative setting.
With much of the focus being on the actual Endlands, I did feel that the character development suffered and that some of the characters themselves fell flat. I would have liked to have seen more well-rounded characters to balance out the book and for me, John and Kat could both have been more likeable. The Gaffer was the most interesting character and he was dead only making fleeting appearances in flashbacks and through stories and mentions by the other characters
The story in Devil’s Day is told in a non-linear way and has separate timelines that flit around. The main portion of the narrative is from the time when John and Kat return to the Endlands for the Gaffer’s funeral but interspersed with this are flash-forwards that feature an older John and also flashbacks to the past that recount events from John’s childhood memories. Overall, Hurley does a decent job of segueing the time jumps and overall, I didn’t have an issue with the structure of the book or with following the story but I do have to admit that on a couple of occasions I was caught out and didn’t realise that the timeline had actually changed, face-palm!
Hurley uses some interesting terminology throughout Devil’s Day, the devil himself is referred to as the ‘Owd Feller‘. And John refers to Tom, his father as ‘dadda‘ which to me, is a term used by a child and to read it from a grown man was admittedly rather strange! But, on the whole, the sporadic usage of rural dialect compliments the rural setting and I found myself liked Hurley’s writing finding Devil’s Day to be both well written and descriptive.
Devil’s Day is a slow paced book. It has a very atmospheric mood to it but not much ever really happens. Whilst there are secrets and revelations that are built towards and subsequently come to light there’s not really any significant or groundbreaking events that take place making for a slow burn and meander all the way through. However, it’s the right style of pacing for the story that Hurley is telling, building the tension and unease throughout and it works well to create what for me was a rather different read.
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