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Once is the latest in the welcome new phase of James Herbert's career after he distanced himself from the straightforward "horror" tag afforded to him by earlier novels such as the Rats trilogy and cannily reinvented himself as a writer with considerably more psychological insight and elegance of style.
Trading on a grotesque reinvention of fairy stories, Herbert has his protagonist Thorn Kindred encountering witches, goblins and demons, and being obliged to turn to some very strange sources to save his soul. The new ambitiousness of Herbert's writing may be found in the underpinning of the narrative here: this is a grim and persuasively realised spin on Nietzsche's epigram: "When fighting monsters, beware of becoming one yourself." But long-time readers needn't worry about a lack of grisly chills: Herbert is too fine a writer not to keep us permanently on the edge of our proverbial seats. And he's better than ever at orchestrating his fear-filled climaxes, so that there is a carefully worked out structure to the book that never has the stop-and-start jerkiness of the early novels. Rather in the nature of Sondheim's musical Into the Woods, fairy tale motifs are exploded and reconstituted in this dark and erotic fable. After reading Once, fairy tales will never seem the same again. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Pastoral fantasy and graphic grue congeal immiscibly in this peculiar fairy tale from British horror laureate Herbert (Others). Set on the grounds of Castle Bracken, a verdant woodland estate with a shady history, it follows the trials of Thom Kindred, who returns there to recover from a stroke. Thom's mother worked for Sir Russell Bleeth, the estate's owner, and the grounds hold fond memories of years spent with his mum before she inexplicably abandoned him. No sooner is Thom comfy in the natural surroundings than he is subjected to seemingly unnatural experiences: displays of multicolored lights in the foliage, an encounter with an ethereal young maiden in the woods and increasingly persistent advances by a Wiccan nursemaid. In time, Thom discovers that the estate is a refuge for the faerie folk, whose blood he shares, and that he'll play a pivotal role in saving them from an occult menace that's already infiltrated Castle Bracken. Herbert does nothing original with this familiar fantasy theme of the individual who discovers his faerie heritage. Rather, he dwells at tedious length on the society of the faeriefolkis, indulging in twee descriptions of their world and endowing some with proper names that are titles of his previous books spelled backwards. Prolonged erotic interludes, spliced in to alert readers that this is a fairy tale for adults, do little to relieve the monotony. Only in the final moments, when Thom battles a series of viscerally horrific assaults, does the book show a glimmer of the vitality and drive characteristic of Herbert's best fiction.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I really tried to like this. But after it was all said and done I wasnt to happy with myself. This is what gives fiction a bad name.
The intertwining world of fairies and humans may not be the most original theme for a fantasy novel. Indeed I was reminded of Graham Joyce's memorable "The Tooth Fairy" on several occasions. Herbert however, uses his not inconsiderable talents as master of the macabre, to make "Once" something special. The deeply erotic prose punctuated suddenly and shockingly with moments of the grossest horror, creates a profoundly unsettling atmosphere, which remains with the reader long after the final page has been turned. And I turned the 470 odd pages in a remarkably short time, the tension at the end of each chapter making this the most moorish, unputdownable book I have read for several months.
Sure, the denouement is somewhat predictable, but is no less satisfying for that, and there were a few twists along the way that caught me unawares. Herbert's reknowned used of simile is as sharp as ever here, the description of complete utter darkness flowing "around your hand like inky syrup" being a splendid and evocative example.
Finally, I just have to mention the reference to Björk, which I found both delightful and inspired!
For my money, "Once" is one of Herbert's strongest works. Arachnophobes stay well clear though!
Most recent customer reviews
Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and James Herbert, My three favourite authors now I make the stipulation of EARLY James Herbert. Read morePublished on April 7 2012 by Altttuning
I really enjoyed this book...a fairytale that's definitely for adults. I enjoyed the dreamlike descriptions just as much as the shockingly graphic parts. Read morePublished on April 12 2004 by Helen Simpson
I really enjoy a book when I can root for the bad guy. This is one of those books. I cannot stress enough the importence of getting emotionally involved when I read a book. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2004 by Debs
I found that this book kept me interested but wasn't great. It was certainly unsettling in parts, but not nearly as scary as The Dark, The Survivor and his classics. Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2003 by Timothy A. Buchanan
I found Herbert's latest novel to be completely absorbing. The premise is classic. The crippled protagonist finds hiself stranded amidst gothic horrors with limited abilities to... Read morePublished on Feb. 7 2003 by rob kenamond
I just discovered James Herbert a few months ago and I found he has written a whole bunch of books. I have read The Others and I highly recommend it also. Read morePublished on Jan. 17 2003 by Amazon Customer
If you are fan of Herbert's or just like good horror/suspense, his newest work will not disappoint.Published on Jan. 13 2003 by Scott MacEslin
What was James Herbert thinking? This novel is part fantasy, part horror and with a chunk of soft porn thrown in as well. And none of it works. Read morePublished on Dec 17 2002 by Nick Brett