Hollow Pike By James Dawson

Sometimes a book comes around that attracts me via the blurb on the back cover and then during reading puts me on the back foot. These are generally books that make me say “GNNNNNGH”, due to certain frustrations. Hollow Pike is one of those books. From the blurb I expected a sinister story of witchcraft with a dark and twisting plot, possibly something gothic. While a third of the novel exceeded those expectations, the other two thirds left me wanting more.

The book opens incredibly well and introduces us to Lis as she dreams a recurring nightmare about being killed in a stream surrounded by trees.  We find that she is moving to Hollow Pike after being relentlessly bullied at her former school. This sets the tone very well and allows the reader to believe that some brooding force is at work. The dreams and the foreboding presence of the Pike Copse is a dominant theme. And then the novel twists into something very different as we follow Lis’ life at school.

Now my criticisms are purely based on what I enjoy in a novel, rather than what debut author, James Dawson has written. The book at times feels a little too girly. I was lured into reading with the prospect of witches and black magic, but what I’m reading about is how the boy that Lis fancies has a nice bum. To be honest, I’m quite likely not the target audience for the book, and I would be doing James’ writing a disservice by not mentioning this.

Because what James has done is create a perfect YA novel for his audience. There are plenty of pop culture references to relate to, the characters are archetypal and he has nailed the teenage ‘voice’ throughout. The characters are varied and range from the outcasts to the popular princess of the school. This harks back to classic horror conventions, also. It’s easy to say that Dawson may have found a market that he can hold in the palm of his hand.

He uses the characters wonderfully and focuses on their eccentricities, such as Kitty’s hulking frame and goth like appearance. What I admire about James is that he has tackled quite an array of issues that occur in teenage life such as bullying and sexuality. He doesn’t shy away from allowing his characters to guide the young minds that will ultimately read his novel.

The story is delightfully slowburning and only the merest suggestion of dark forces is present. The reader is constantly left wondering and herein lays the brilliance of Dawson. Throughout the entire book I thought I had it all worked out. I was confident that I’d deduced the story from a history of Point Horror books and trashy horror films. But really, Dawson is a master at the swerve and sleight of hand. Suddenly the story threw up some surprises and I was genuinely gripped by the end.

It’s just a shame it took so long to get there. The middle of the book loses a lot of the pace built up and I found myself wanting the book to recover. Thankfully the last third of the book is blistering and remarkably good. It stands out so much that it could almost be another writer.

I came away from Hollow Pike conflicted. I enjoyed the darkness of the book and the fact that deep down it is a marvellous piece of teenage horror. But I couldn’t escape the way I felt during the more feminine parts of the book. I still enjoyed the novel and will definitely keep an eye on Dawson’s future works.

This book was supplied kindly by the publisher.

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