“THE DEVIL AND THE UNICORN”
by Haydn Jones, 2015
I must say, not knowing what the story was about, and after reading ten pages of murder and domestic life in the English countryside, it was wild to find myself casually dropped into a work of fantasy reminiscent of Doctor Who. But that's no complaint.
Curiously, the heroine Alice seems to take this revelation in stride, almost as if she forgets about it as soon as she sees it. She pays more attention when she realizes there's devilment afoot.
The big bad in this story is the Devil himself, old Scratch. This is pure Christian Mythos, and shows the kind of belief in demons and witch cults that got thousands of people burned at the stake during a period known as the Enlightenment.
In the story, we see documents written in the Fourteenth Century showing the goat’s head Baphomet symbol, despite it being designed for the first time in the late Nineteenth Century. Another curiosity is the declaration of the pentagon as a symbol of evil. Yes, I'm sure many terrorists consider the Pentagon to be a symbol of evil. Perhaps the symbol Jones intends is a pentacle or pentagram. Even this is not a symbol of evil except by people who see evil everywhere.
While I'm not fond of the Christian themes, that's a personal objection. Readers coming from that background will not mind. The story is well told and the characters are mostly made interesting. The adventure, with Alice trying to save her family from myriad occult attacks, moves at a brisk pace. I love the bit when the bishop is asked to perform an exorcism and almost the first thing he asks is how much money has the family donated to the church! Oh, that is so accurate.
Alice is married to perhaps the worst husband in England; he's brutal, callous, unfaithful, a drunk and a druggie. Compared to that, the Satanic temple under their house and the ghost on the stairway seem like minor problems. Fortunately, Alice has something of a guardian angel in Walter, who shows up to offer solace and wisdom. But only until he is chased off. And there’s a serpent in Alice’s household.
Alice and the household staff are well-rounded characters and we care what happens to them. Even her lout of a husband is very well described and made into a real character. We may not like him but he certainly comes off as a realistic character. Jones has definite insight into his characters.
The story is very good and the writing itself is mostly good, but with numerous proofreading errors. Jones frequently drops commas into sentences where they're not required. Italicizing character’s thoughts would clarify what's what without making the reader guess. Another thing is the alliteration. Having characters named Walter and Wilfred, Molly and Maria, Charles and Charlie, Stephanie and Sally, Sylvia and Sofia, Father Harris and PC Harris, and even two Robertos, adds an unnecessary level of confusion. Even the author transposes Walter for Wilfred at one point.
And lines like “Charlie was sitting quite still with ears pricked, watching the old man with the weathered face and dark, mysterious eyes buttering toast and cutting up sausages to cool them down.” would come off better if given the active voice and lines were broken up a bit more: “Charlie sat quite still with ears pricked. He watched the old man's weathered face and dark, mysterious eyes as he buttered the toast and sliced the sausages to cool them quicker.” Notice the up-down bugaboo is also eliminated.
Those quibbles are unfortunate, but they only detract a bit from a good story. Overall, “The Devil and the Unicorn” is an easy read and an engaging one. It needs some proofreading but the story's solid. And the ending is probably not at all what you would expect.