An Altar on the Village Green – Review

A triumph for self published fantasy, An Altar on the Village Green is an ambitious and unique read that shows what can be achieved when the shackles are off.

Nathan Hall has written an absolutely fantastic book that appealed to me in so many ways.

I’d been searching for a fantasy or sci-fi with a big dose of horror for quite a while – this book literally has horrors – almost like a level on a video game where an area is consumed by malevolence.

I was first drawn to the book on twitter when I saw the awesome cover designed by Luke Tarzian and the intriguing title. When I read the blurb, I actually pre-ordered the ebook, something I’ve never done before. I had this vibe that it would be really good; a dangerous notion to go in blindly with high expectations!

Fortunately, it was everything I wanted and more.

Our never-named-or-gendered main character is a Lance, almost like a knight or holy warrior in some ways, who is tasked with ridding the world of these horrors for ‘The Church’ – a church dedicated to a chained God. As briefly mentioned above, these horrors infect areas of the world and act in a sort of timeless loop where people are murdered and horrors (often monsters) plague the people living within them. These horrors can infect an area for decades, the people doomed to suffer again and again until a Lance is able to cleanse the area and release the people from this world and rid the monsters from it.

Hall is so creative with the horrors that the are so intriguing, exciting and horrifying to experience. In having these horrors almost as levels with enemies to defeat and traps to avoid, there is a definite video game vibe to it, but one you can certainly enjoy (and perhaps find even more novel) if you aren’t a gamer. The titular horror in which our lance finds themself suffers a malevolent beast who enjoys the turmoil of the villagers – and eating their children. Hall has a knack of making aspects such as this even more spine chilling with his writing style and the way events are described. There is usually a level of curiosity or mystery around events as well as immediate threat.

Having followed the author on twitter, he’s spoken about his passion for the Dark Souls games and the influence and inspiration this had on his work. The souls games are developed by a Japanese company called From Software and are the brainchild of Hidetaka Miyazaki. They are considered some of the most difficult games, because one wrong move can end in death and having to start the whole level again with no checkpoints. It means you have to approach the game as you would in real life, by planning strategies, being cautious and weighing up risks.

As such, these are the perfect games in my opinion to inspire a fantasy-horror novel. Hall expertly captures the Souls essence. I love how the Lance can get killed and has to restart with their current knowledge and the same events playing out in the horror after they begin again. There is a caveat to dying in a horror as a Lance, though – each time you die, the horrors get their claws into you more and more, a slow descent into madness. As such, although dying isn’t the end, there is a reason to try as hard as possible not to die.

Past Lances are to an extent hero worshipped and have their name written down for history, and in many cases their end and the madness that preceded it is known amongst the other pages and lances belonging to the church. So there is a very real sense of threat and danger even though the reader knows that death won’t literally be the end. It was great to see other lances at work too, such as Chorin – a Lance successful because they don’t care about the people they have to kill or steps they have to take to destroy a horror. I guess he actually represents how many of us might play a video game, whether we admit it or not.

As someone who played the remastered Demon’s Souls recently and enjoyed it, I can really appreciate the inspiration, but I don’t want to convey the message that you have to be a gamer or have played these games to appreciate this book. As I said, being unfamiliar with how this works may actually make the book more of a unique experience for people who haven’t, so there are reasons to enjoy this for all readers looking for a new and exciting fantasy horror.

Your first thought on reading the above review may be that an avid gamer has tried to write a book, and be subsequently put off by that.

This isn’t the case. An Altar on the Village Green isn’t Dark Souls fan fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with fan fiction) but it’s more a case of a very capable and professional author taking inspiration from one of their other passions and using it to make a fantastic, unique and extremely engaging book that feels niche but accessible. All the creativity, worldbuilding and plot has been crafted from the author’s imagination and hard work, so I’m wary of giving too much credit to what inspired the book and am passionate about conveying what a fantastic job the author has done of making a book which:

  • Has a fantastically imagined world
  • Is creepy AF!
  • Benefits from immersive prose that keeps you in the action
  • Includes emotional moments
  • Is really well edited
  • Leaves you feeling like you just enjoyed a unique experience rather than just another fantasy read

An Altar on the Village Green is a book that left me feeling so happy and satisfied because not only was it the exact sort of read I’d been searching for, it surpassed these expectations and really delivered something special.

This is not just another cut and paste fantasy; the author has been bold and ambitious and that’s the beauty of self published fantasy, being able to write your story the way you want it. And it really pays off here.

“If one suffers, I suffer. If one is chained, I am chained.”

My faith called me to become a Lance. My compassion drew me into one of the fallen lands. Through my connection with the Chained God, I alone can find and destroy the Horror that stains the land.

Death can no longer chain me.

But I couldn’t have imagined the madness waiting for me in this village. I’m not sure my faith can withstand the secrets I’ll uncover. Or that my compassion can survive the violence to come. This Horror may swallow me whole.

Death can no longer free me.

A creature stalks in the dark. Buildings burn. People die. An altar has been built on the village green.

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