(2015) Tarn Richardson, Duckworth, £12.99, trdpbk, 309pp, ISBN 978-0-715-65059-2
Billed as a horror novel, The Fallen is the sequel to Tarn Richardsonís debut, The Damned and is set in an alternative 1915, full of magic, ritual and demonic possession. The e-book prequel The Hunted is available for free so readers can familiarise themselves with Richardsonís writing if they wish.
Poldek Tacit, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, has already defeated the powers of evil once, now he is broken out of ecclesiastical prison to thwart or fulfil another prophecy in which the Devil himself is to be summoned to Earth amidst the bloody carnage of the First World War.
Whilst there is a suitable level of gruesome and gore to Richardsonís description at times, The Fallen is not really part of the horror genre and often shies away from depicting the worst acts mentioned in its narrative. Richardsonís writing is more concerned with action and this comes at a frenetic pace with Tacit and his associates swept up in a robust conspiracy of ritual and magic. The short staccato chapters of The Fallen, serve to assist its page turning quality, but also prevent the reader from gaining much beyond a surface sketch of its characters. This is particularly true of our main protagonist, Poldek Tacit who seems to be something of a character homage for the writer as every other character presents a mythic eulogy about his prowess, unpredictability and fortitude. The unfortunate consequence of this my theologising is to make him something of a let down as a viewpoint character in the flesh.
Depictions of locations in The Fallen appear well enough researched, so long as the reader doesnít look left or right and stays focused on the frenetic plot, whilst adversaries appear thick and fast, to be dispatched in a variety of ways, much like an obstacle course, with different coloured cones. There is a lack of connect to this, despite Richardsonís correct focus on sensation.
Of more interest is the connected interlude story of Pablo, who is a six-fingered soldier in the Italian army on his way to the Carso and to fight the Austro-Hungarians. Pabloís place in the central plot is telegraphed from the outset, but Richardsonís descriptions of the war context from this angle is interesting in and of itself. Unfortunately, it is not used to offer much meaningful deliberation on humanity. Pabloís choice in the conclusion does transcend the intended direction of the story and introduce some noblesse, but this is mostly in spite of what has happened before.
Of more concern in the ending is the way in which other characters are quickly transported to the final location where everything plays out. Pablo has fought every step to be there, but Tacit and his entourage are whisked from their travails to do battle with evil on the Soca River, thereby undermining the struggle depicted in Pabloís chapters. The resolution is also disappointing, with quick contrivances causing three hundred pages of evil strategy to collapse without too much effort. Perhaps in a way we have been desensitised to the exhortations of these characters in the end, owing to their continual effort all the way through. Richardson has little room to up the ante and whilst the twists of the plot offer some surprise, they fail to deliver an ending worthy of the effort to get there, with loose ends left for a sequel that seems to promise even higher stakes.
The Fallen has a cinematic quality to it that invokes twentieth century period action, like a darker version of Indiana Jones. However, this ultimately, makes it a lightweight read and a forgettable instalment in our exploration of both period and themes.
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