Backlist Review: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Friday, October 2, 2015
Title: Long Lankin
Genre: mythic fiction, retellings, young-adult
Series: N/A (thank goodness)
Pages: 464 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: January 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

In an exquisitely chilling debut novel, four children unravel the mystery of a family curse - and a ghostly creature known in folklore as Long Lankin.

When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less-than-warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don't know is that their aunt's life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. 

Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries - before it's too late for little Mimi. Riveting and intensely atmospheric, this stunning debut will hold readers in its spell long after the last page is turned.

Though the blurb used most for this truly spine-chilling tale is the one above, all the publishers and author really need to do in order to freak their audience out and interest them at the same time is is use the poem in the prologue: 

"Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse,
Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.
Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away
Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the hay. 
Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned, 
Except one little window,
where Long Lankin crept in..."

Effective, yes? It continues in that same grisly, eerie tone and snared me without hesitation. I was both creeped out by the third stanza and interested before even starting the actual novel. There is a reason that I refused to read this book at night (and am writing the review in daylight) and that is because this book? Is effing creepy as fuck. And yes, expletives are needed because this book got under my skin in a way that few other suspense novels have, especially ones in the YA genre, geared at kids younger and supposedly less mature than me. Long Lankin is a deliciously creepy treat that perhaps persists just a bit long for the thrill to last entirely but one that exceeds at building tension and setting an excellent atmosphere and presence for such an intimidating but rarely-seen-on-the-page creature.

Cora and her sister Mimi are the girl leads of this venture and they are paralleled in their male counterparts, Roger and Pete. In each case, I found the elder to be the more interesting and worth attention. The POV shifts between Cora and Roger were hard to discern, but that can hopefully be laid at the feet of formatting for an ARC copy instead of the final product. So while it was distracting trying to constantly figure out the who's who of a dialogue, it was easy to like both inner monologues of the kids. Cora is what my mom would term "a handful." She's adventurous and interested in the world around her and is smart, if not exactly the most obedient of nieces. It's easy to root for her and her spirited nature when one realizes how alone and abandoned this child and her sister really are; Cora realizes that she is literally all Mimi has and is quite caring. Roger is like Cora in many ways; he's from a house that really can't keep him, he's open to adventures and exploring and he's always followed by his brother. Though this is YA, neither Cora nor Roger talk down to the audience or overact their fear; Long Lankin is largely so effective as a antagonist because of how sparsely and eerily he's presented to the quartet of kids.

Ida, the aunt of Cora and Mimi, and the owner of Guerdon Hall, is also a POV character. While I could understand the necessity of having the children as POV characters and they grew into the roles naturally as the book went on, I got the most from Ida's inner monologue. I have to admit that Lindsey Barraclough establishes herself early as a talented writer and storyteller, one that favors lots of creepy descriptions in very tactile narrations. Ida benefits the most from this as she's not innocent and eager; she knows only too well what happens when the tide goes out in her little haunted English village. 

The first two hundred and thirty pages of this smashed me, absolutely knocked me back a step with its flair. I was in awe of how creeped out I was, how very much I loved how creeped out I was, and how effective the author was at setting such a tense atmosphere and then.. it died. There's a lull midway through the novel where there is too much rushing about and old letters and no one talking things with the other party and all that accomplished was a sharp decline in my overt interest. The incredible amounts of tension built up to that took a while to climb back to their previous heights (my shoulders were literally riiiight under my earlobes), but climb back they did. I may complain  - slightly - about the extended lull midway but the ending was entirely satisfying. It was tension-wracked and emotion-filled and thoroughly engrossing. I am dutifully impressed by this book, even though I won't reread it. My nerves can't take that again.

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