Author – Adam L. G. Nevill
Pages – 336
Publishing Information – Indie Published, 13th September 2021
The One Sentence Review
Spine-chillingly creepy, Cunning Folk is a superb folk horror that makes you question how well you really know your neighbours.
Money’s tight and their new home is a fixer-upper. Deep in rural South West England, with an ancient wood at the foot of the garden, Tom and his family are miles from anywhere and anyone familiar. His wife, Fiona, was never convinced that buying the money-pit at auction was a good idea. Not least because the previous owner committed suicide. Though no one can explain why.
Within days of crossing the threshold, when hostilities break out with the elderly couple next door, Tom’s dreams of future contentment are threatened by an escalating tit-for-tat campaign of petty damage and disruption.
Increasingly isolated and tormented, Tom risks losing his home, everyone dear to him and his mind. Because, surely, only the mad would suspect that the oddballs across the hedgerow command unearthly powers. A malicious magic even older than the eerie wood and the strange barrow therein. A hallowed realm from where, he suspects, his neighbours draw a hideous power.
Well, I tried and I tried and I never found a novel that successfully creeped me out, properly.
Until Cunning Folk.
Horror can be pretty subjective and what scares one may not scare another. Ghosts, serial killers, werewolves and vampires; none really phase me.
The sheer amount of weird creepiness here though was absolutely perfect for putting me on edge and I want to shout about this book from the roof-tops!
Growing up, the idea of trespassing on someone else’s private space used to scare me the most, not knowing what you could possibly be letting yourself in for, unable to call for help. For me and my sister, the innocent grotto in the corner of a garden centre became the home of some little humanoid that used to cook and eat people, and we’d tread cautiously around it, not daring to approach the front door.
This book brought back those feelings – out in the middle of nowhere, with woodland all around and an odd couple next door (The Moots) who just don’t act natural at all, and who are often seen out pruning their perfect garden. It already began to raise questions to me about what was going on behind the façade.
Nevill has a real skill at slowly building the atmosphere and making us slightly more uncomfortable as each chapter progresses.
You’d be forgiven on starting out on this story for thinking it was a haunted house horror, and although its many strengths do in some ways share this vibe, you begin to realise the house isn’t actually as scary as you first thought. It just so happens that the neighbours are. Much more than you first thought.
Whilst capturing a number of really freaky moments and weird, creepy goings on that make you really uncomfortable, the author is also adept at achieving this through other means. For me personally I could really relate to Tom, the main character. He’s a Dad in a family of 3, as I am myself and he’s trying his hardest to create a life for his family, believing this old house to have potential once everything’s sorted.
We follow Tom’s descent into self-doubt, anger, helplessness, regret. I shared his frustrations and anxiety and could really empathise and put myself in his shoes, which helped make me really immersed. It also made the story feel a hell of a lot more real and panic-inducing at times. There was even one scene I was reading in a brightly lit room on my break at work, surrounded by people yet I was still too on edge to read on without cowardly checking a couple of pages ahead to see if Tom escapes the encounter.
As well as pure horror, Nevill also captures how close we are to everything falling apart, and this adds to the cocktail of anxiety I felt reading this – but in a good way.
I really enjoyed the writing style and the chapter lengths, both of which I felt helped things to flow and again to become immersed in the story. It’s the first book in a long time I’ve read where I had that “I MUST read one more chapter” feel. I mentioned reading on my work break – when I had to go back to work I’d spend the next few hours desperate to find out what happens next and thinking about the goings on that had transpired.
Cunning Folk definitely isn’t a feel good book (though are many horrors?) and it’s not one of those where the source of the horror isn’t actually that dangerous and everything works out ok in the end. The Moots are involved in some real fucked up shit and I found it interesting how scared I became of an elderly couple. I wish I could say more but I risk ruining some of the big moments, which always feel impactful.
Some horrific things happen and it might leave certain readers a little on edge. As a Dad and an owner of the same type of dog in the book, every scene pulled at my heartstrings and I was incredibly invested in the events.
Nevill is just as likely to make you laugh as cry however (though he’ll probably do both) and there is dark humour scattered within every so often that helps to give the book balance so that it isn’t complete trauma, anxiety and helplessness all the way through.
All in all, Cunning Folk is incredibly inventive and would work perfectly as a film or short series. And if you’re the type of person who prefers your horror creepy and psychological (though there are some squirmingly gory bits too!) then I highly recommend this book.
My new favourite horror.
Oh, and isn’t that cover so cool!?