[Book Review] Gothghul Hollow – Anna Stephens

Title: Gothghul Hollow
Author: Anna Stephens
Published by: Black Library
Publication date: 5th Feb 2022
Genre: Horror
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: Private Collection

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Blurb/Synopsis

The Hollow. A lonely Shyishan town, obscured amongst wild moorland, inhabited by folk of vigilant routine. What remains of the once illustrious Gothghul family endures season upon season of monastic isolation in their castle on the hill. Aaric Gothghul, made callous by loss, shuts himself in his study and broods over arcane texts, while his strange and formidable daughter wanders the forests alone.

But when the town is threatened by a spate of sinister manifestations, the quiet formality of their days end. Worse still, the upheaval disturbs a terrible family secret – a chilling memory that Aaric has kept buried for twenty-five years. Now, father and daughter must set aside their differences and search for answers to an ancient curse that is somehow linked to their past. Aided by a straight-talking sharpshooter and a shrewd man of faith, they seek to fathom the forces that assail the Hollow.

Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I picked up Gothghul Hollow a while ago then put it down again for other books on my reading list. It came up in conversation with Dave, my usual suspect when it comes to buddy reads, and we teamed up.


Gothghul Hollow is another of Black Libraries Horror series of novels. Set in the Age of Sigmar Realm of Shyish; where death reigns supreme. The Hollow, a small town, is both haunted and hunted by a horrific entity. A beast of such magnificent proportions that the inhabitants turn to the Lord of Gothghul Manor for help. 

Coming from the Warhammer Horror line, you know that this book isn’t going to be one for the faint-hearted. There are graphic depictions of violence and gore right from the first chapter – which sets the tone expertly for the rest of the novel. There’s a fast pace to the first section of the novel which introduces us to the main character, Runar and his band of bounty hunters; men hired to track down a vicious beast that is assailing The Hollow and the citizens within. Where they face their own trials with the devil-dog and the scene is set for the dire situation they all face.

The cast of characters is generally strong, I feel like we still have more to learn about each of them and hope that they’re further developed in future instalments in the series. I fully confess, I am non-to-fond on female leads that feel like they have to go above and beyond in order to prove themselves worthy against a backdrop of strong male characters. Edrea did dip into this territory a little too much for me. She came across as a pushy, bossy, know-it-all that could do no wrong. I didn’t take to her as much as I’d hoped. However, as this was her intended character, she is well-written in this regard. 

Her father, Aaric was an interesting character. He had secrets upon secrets that were great to see revealed as the story progressed. His overbearing protective stance was understandable when the truth started coming out and seeing him develop as the pages passed was a delight. So was Tiberius, Edrea’s uncle and Priest of Sigmar; who acted as a go-between when the father/daughter relationship broke down. Runar as a lead and as a romantic interest helped to add another layer to the characters and seeing them all working with and against one another as the story progressed was wonderful.

The fun of this novel is in the tension and the action. When there is emotional drama between the lead characters, discovering and questioning the motivations of one another. I also found the inclusion of a romantic subplot didn’t annoy me as it has done in other novels, here it made the characters feel more human and relatable. Warhammer Romance line, here we come!!

The story ramped up the tension as is continued and the drama was certainly high. Many clues were given throughout as to who and what haunted Gothghul Hollow and its denizens. But never was the big reveal at the end of the novel given away. There were times when the story felt a little repetitive and the pacing could have been a bit quicker.

I found myself wanting the story to ‘get on with it’ in places, as it started to drag. This felt especially apparent towards the end of the story where it all seemed to get a little repetitive before the mask was off. I have a bit of a gripe about the ending of this book. Whereas others praised the mystery and the reveal, I disliked it. I felt tricked into reading a genre of book that I generally avoid and I’d love to rant about it. But I also don’t want to write too much and spoil it for future readers. It was a strange choice as though the author had written themselves into a corner and looked for a bit of hype in order to write themselves out of it again. 

Although there are certain scenes from a horror novel within Gothghul Hollow, I once again question the Warhammer Horror series of books. What makes this story any more horrific than any other book set in the Realm of Shyish, where death is prevalent in day to day life? Other than a few graphic murder scenes, not all that much. I am waiting for a Warhammer Horror novel to truly terrify me; as this book didn’t come close. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book, with some interesting characters and a decent plot, but it just didn’t tick the horror boxes for me.

As an Age of Sigmar novel, it’s isolated in its own little pocket of the Shyish Realm. While there is a lot more to the Age of Sigmar setting the wider world wasn’t touched upon here. This is a good thing for newer readers of the Warhammer Fantasy line as the story explains the Realmworlds and setting making it understandable without being overwhelming. But it does little to illustrate just how vast the world can be. Gothghul Hollow works well for both newcomers to the setting and older AoS fans alike. Yet, It can leave those familiar with the setting wanting more from it. 

Summary

A decent story detailing the haunting of a small section of the Realm of Shyish. Graphic violence throughout that fits with the Warhammer Horror theme, but doesn’t quite do enough for me to live up to the branding. A good selection of characters. Somewhat hampered by a female lead that tries too hard to prove herself superior to her fellows.

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