Unholy Water – Jonathan McKinney

*I beta read for this author.  I received a free ARC of this book, but the decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

wpc194f2ca_05_06Blurb:  In the misty Lancashire town of Ecclesburn, kids go missing. But no one talks about it. Everyone knows why, but they don’t talk about it. The grown ups smear garlic and holy water over their necks and wrists while walking the dog after dark, but they never say the V word.

And when one of the local pubs is taken over by a group of undead monsters, and a trio of vampire hunters is called to clear them out, a terrible series of events begins to play out, which will change the way Ecclesburnians live forever.

Unholy Water is a dark and bloodthirsty novel about desire in wild excess, about whether you should defy your circumstances or adapt to them, and about the kind of inflexible determination that can save or destroy those that matter most.

Another seasonally appropriate read, this time from the pen of an author more well-known for his superhero novels, the Schildmaids saga.

On the whole, despite the darker and more vampiric elements at play here, I think this still mainly falls into the fantasy bracket.  I absolutely love the idea of Undertown (and the route there) and can see so much potential for future plots set there including, but not limited to, the one trailed in the twist near the end.  Or one of the twists, as there are a few!

I wasn’t keen on the terrible trio of Rayne-Helsinger vampire slayers, or the neglectful-to-the-point-of-abusive adults surrounding poor Tilly Turnbull.  However, I didn’t need to be keen on any of those characters, as that wasn’t the point of the novel.  The story is strongly themed around desire and the corrupting effect of strong desires on different personalities, and these characters explore different aspects of this theme as the plot progresses.

Tilly is completely different.  She is a triumph of the rational over the base, and the author’s Schildmaids roots shine through here with a strong and moral female character making tough decisions without support, experience or much in the way of wise advice.  If anything, Unholy Water is definitely a superhero origins story when it comes to Tilly!

As usual with Jonathan McKinney’s writing, the dialogue is natural, believable and entertainingly bantery, with plenty of pop culture references thrown out for the eagle-eyed reader to enjoy.  The plot is exciting: I actually had no idea how it would end or which characters would survive (not many… it is a Halloween novel after all!).

More creepy than the bloody violence was the exposure of the darker side of human nature, via our willingness to ignore facts that don’t suit our selfish agendas.  This played out repeatedly in individuals but was best exemplified by the town as a whole; a place where people can deny the existence of the supernatural whilst smearing themselves in garlic and religious iconic-ry as a matter of routine.  I don’t think it will be easy to forget the ‘playground agreement’, mentioned as almost an aside, or the low-key death of a particular minor character.

Despite the (teen)age of most of the main characters, I would say that this is more of an adult novel due to the sex, violence and language.  If you’re looking for a dark adventure this Halloween and enjoy a cross between The Exorcist and Buffy the Vampire Slayer then Jonathan McKinney has you covered.

The unclothed, lifeless body of Sara Bradshaw lay on the floor, between the vampires and herself.  She’d had her blood drained, from multiple places, marked by sore puncture wounds.
The vampires themselves were awake.
With rapid reflexes, each of them twisted it’s head towards Juliet.
Ten dark and yet shining eyes, all on her.
The nearest of them lowered it’s head into it’s neck a little, like a cat on the prowl, ready to pounce.  Two others, behind it, snarled like angry hounds.  All five of them, however, began to move forward, toward Juliet.
The young vampire hunter smiled at her prey, and started stepping backward, turning into a run, as the creatures dutifully, predictably began to pour out of the function room, to chase her.

– Jonathan McKinney, Unholy Water

You can find a compilation of short reviews of Jonathan McKinney’s previous writing here in my Siren Stories post, or my review of his most recent Schildmaids novella here.

The Siren Stories website is here and you can follow Jonathan McKinney either via Siren Stories’ Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or directly on his own Twitter or Instagram.


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