I think I’m going to start by saying I really wanted to like this book. I love horror novels even though I don’t read this genre as often as I used to when I was in high school. I remember reading “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty in a couple of hours; it was so good that I couldn’t put it down. I had nightmares after reading Stephen King’s “IT”, I absolutely loved “The Shining”, and I thought “Pet Sematary” was his sickest novel… which, I guess, was exactly the point. Don’t get me wrong, when I started reading “The Warlock” I didn’t expect this kind of horror… but I did expect a horror nonetheless. I don’t want to sound harsh, so I’m going to highlight the good points first.
The plot is carefully built and the author takes his time with introducing us to his fictional world. The first chapter is a kind of Prologue, where we see Alan go back to the horrible place that changed his life – villa Thelema, on the Greek island of Melanos. We get a glimpse of what he experienced there – a temple where dark rituals had been held, a cellar where iron chains hung from the wall, a name that will forever haunt his nightmares… Marat. Naturally, we expect an intense, gut-wrenching story about black magic, bloody sacrifices, unholy practices. And we turn the pages hoping to get to the good part as soon as possible… and we turn more pages, and more, and… come on, when does the action start?
My first thought was that “The Warlock” reminded me so much of John Fowles’ “Magus”. And no, it wasn’t just the title. The setting (a Greek island where the main character hopes to find something different); Marat reminded me too much of Maurice Conchis (wealthy, eccentric, unpredictable); Alan is taking everything as a joke (Nicholas Urfe did the same until he realized he was the one being played); the Godgame… I read “The Magus” many years ago, so I don’t remember all the details… but at least these aspects struck me as familiar.
Alan is very well fleshed out. He is the typical modern man who doesn’t really believe in God, but doesn’t deny his existence either. He is rational and calculated, he believes in the evil people can inflict, but not in the dark forces. I guess this type of character is perfect in a novel that deals with black magic and demon summoning, because he is not sure what to believe in. He thinks he is in control because he listens to both sides, when, in truth, he is the easiest to manipulate. I can’t say I liked Alan… he was no hero and I didn’t feel like he did anything notable, except simply being in the middle of the action, but he was well developed.
The worst problem I had with this book was that it dragged… I mean, it really, really dragged. I felt like whenever something interesting was finally going to happen, the author would stop himself from being too enthusiastic about diving into the action, and introduced another boring paragraph in which Alan philosophies about I-don’t-know-what or remembers whatever experience from his past. When the characters are at the table and discuss important matters, like the existence of God and the demons, or magic, after every single line we have a description of how they raise their glasses of wine to their lips, take a bite from their lamb, think about how good the wine is, and so on. I mean… I’m dying here to find out what Marat and the acolytes have to say about their dark practices, but I have to wait for Alan to contemplate his meal first. I’m not saying these details should have been entirely skipped, but it gets tiring to come across them at every conversation these characters have.
Now, back to why I thought this novel was so incredibly slow. In the second half of the book, something finally starts happening. A girl is kidnapped and she is about to be sacrificed to the demon Marat summoned. I tell you, that girl could have died a thousand times until Alan, Evangelos and everyone else got to her. Why? On his way to the temple Alan finds a horse, which means a faster way of getting to the girl. But, of course, he has to take his time to tell us that he’s actually a decent rider and he likes horses despite being brought up in the city. How is this relevant? Just jump on the horse already. Then, at some point, he comes face to face with the demon, his worst nightmare, his greatest fear… what will he do? That will have to wait because we first have to go through two pages in which Alan remembers how his grandfather had a farm when he was a boy… and I don’t know what tragic event happened, because I skipped them. Why cut a climax right in the middle to take the reader back to Alan’s past? Do I need to know right now, right at this very important, intense moment what happened to Alan when he was a boy to understand his fear and panic? No, really… I can relate to him without this additional information.
I am a patient reader. I can wait through half of the book for something to happen. But when it does happen, I like to see the action flow at a fast pace that would make me devour the words and lose track of time. I had enough of Alan’s musings in the first part of the novel; in the second part I needed action, goose bumps, horror… where is the horror? Isn’t a horror novel supposed to scare me, make me feel uncomfortable sleeping alone in the house?
Ok, I’ll stop here. I repeat: I really wanted to love this novel. When I start reading a book, I do it with an open mind. I make myself comfortable and get ready to be impressed and note down every detail that gets my attention (yes, I take notes for every book I read). “The Warlock”… it just wasn’t what I expected. I wanted more. It could have been so much more.