Sunday, 2 June 2013
Book Review: The White Devil by Justin Evans
by Justin Evans
Horror/Ghost Story/Gay Subtext
Set in a four-hundred-year-old boys' boarding school in London, a chilling gothic thriller by the author of the critically acclaimed A Good and Happy Child . . .
A fierce and jealous ghost . . .
A young man's fight for his life . . .
The Harrow School is home to privileged adolescents known as much for their distinctive dress and traditions as for their arrogance and schoolboy cruelty. Seventeen-year-old American Andrew Taylor is enrolled in the esteemed British institution by his father, who hopes that the school's discipline will put some distance between his son and his troubled past in the States.
But trouble--and danger--seem to follow Andrew. When one of his schoolmates and friends dies mysteriously of a severe pulmonary illness, Andrew is blamed and is soon an outcast, spurned by nearly all his peers. And there is the pale, strange boy who begins to visit him at night. Either Andrew is losing his mind, or the house legend about his dormitory being haunted is true.
When the school's poet-in-residence, Piers Fawkes, is commissioned to write a play about Byron, one of Harrow's most famous alumni, he casts Andrew in the title role. Andrew begins to discover uncanny links between himself and the renowned poet. In his loneliness and isolation, Andrew becomes obsessed with Lord Byron's story and the poet's status not only as a literary genius and infamous seducer but as a student at the very different Harrow of two centuries prior--a place rife with violence, squalor, incurable diseases, and tormented love affairs.
When frightening and tragic events from that long-ago past start to recur in Harrow's present, and when the dark and deadly specter by whom Andrew's been haunted seems to be all too real, Andrew is forced to solve a two-hundred-year-old literary mystery that threatens the lives of his friends and his teachers--and, most terrifyingly, his own.
The ghost mystery plot is well done. Who is the ghost? What does he want? Why is he being drawn to Andrew most of all? Why are people getting ill and dying? The reader finds out these things at the same time as Andrew, so we feel drawn into the story and relate to the characters. I also loved finding out more about Lord Bryon too.
I really enjoyed it right up until Persephone Vine appeared. I thought to myself, are you really going to go there? Really, Mr. Evans? To the most clichéd love interest ever? The only girl at an all-boys school, daughter of one of the teachers, who disapproves of Andrew, of course? That was where you lost a lot of my attention. I've seen that too many times for it to interest me.
I did read and finish the book because I wanted to know what happened with the ghost, but the love story parts between Persephone an Andrew just seemed shoehorned in. It was as if the author had written the book, then realised he hadn't written a girl and needed to go back and put her in somewhere. Since the blurb mentions it was an all-boys school, I wasn't expecting any girls to be there and wouldn't have been disappointed with that, rather than have the stereotypical trope that we actually got. It would have been all right if I could sense Persephone as an individual character, but she just seemed a placeholder for Andrew to fall in love with, no other reason for her presence there.
Set an all-boys school, this could have been a good gay coming of age story (there is a lot of gay subtext in the book), but instead we got a clichéd love story which came across as rather lacklustre.
It was interesting, but not one I'd re-read.
Reviewed by Annette Gisby
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