Patrick Torrington’s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?
The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell. Published by Flame Tree Press, April 23, 2020. Kindle edition, 256 pages.
*I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
Ramsey is an icon of horror. Considered one of the masters in the genre. Sadly, I have only read a few of his books. He is one of those authors I’m always telling myself I need to read but then never get around to do just that! I do own several of his books, but they sit with all the other books in my mountainous piles of TBR books. Thanks to Flame Tree Press and Netgalley for giving me his newest books and giving me a kick in the butt to actually get them read sooner rather then later! If it wasn’t for them, I probably still wouldn’t have read anything by this icon. -.-
So, I’m going to just jump right in there and get to the point with this review. The Wise Friend was a very strange book, and it took a lot of time to figure out exactly what I thought of it. There are a lot of ups but also some downs. By the time I got to the end of the book, I honestly wasn’t exactly sure what I had just read….?
Good things: Ramsey did an amazing job of showing the relationships of people. I know a lot of other reviewers have complained about this, that all the family did was argue and not trust each other. Well, to that I say, ” Have you never witnessed a marriage falling apart? Have you never sat in an uncomfortable room where the family hates each other? Have you never listened to a couple that has broken up trying to talk to each other?” It is often , not always, but often filled with rage. It could be loud and filled with screams, or it could be silent and filled with laser looks and a tension so toxic in the air you feel like you might drown in it. Lots of hate. Lots of mistrust. Lots of arguing. ” Look at that blue sky, it’s so pretty.” ” That’s not blue! It’s purple and it’s overcast! STOP TALKING!!! 😡 ” Stupid stuff like that. So yes, Patrick and his family had a lot of mistrust and just about every conversation was toxic, but the way the author wrote it, it felt very realistic.
Some reviewers complained that all the arguing became too repetitive. But again, that felt very real. Couples who end up hating each other often will just argue over the same stupid topic over and over….and OVER again because one or the other, or both, have decided that THIS is the hill they are going to die on. It’s stupid and repetitive… but it happens all the time in life. Yes, maybe it did slow the book down a bit in the middle, but I really can’t complain because again, it just felt like a very realistic description of a divorced couple. So I have to give that a gold star.
The premise is a really good hook. What happened to the aunt? We have creepy shadows, unreliable characters, scary woods, investigations falling down rabbit holes of some really old, dark magic. For a long time, the creepiness of the story wrapped around you like sneaky, twisty vines slowly getting tighter, and most of the time you had zero idea of where this was leading you.
Good thing / Bad thing: Because the path was so slow and winding and not exactly forthcoming with answers, it sometimes did feel like it dragged a little bit. I don’t think I would call it filler, but sometimes it just felt like the story kept going and going and nothing really got resolved. Yes, Patrick got some clues here and there that moved the story forward some, but… I don’t know. Something was just off with it. I don’t know if it was the flow, or the transitions from point A, B, C, etc, or what.
Like, when I read something, I don’t mind not knowing where I’m going, that’s a good thing! But when I’m reading a story and I feel like I have zero theories of what is maybe going on, it leaves me feeling more frustrated then suspenseful. I want more small revaluations to help me puzzle it out as I go. The Wise Friend had a little bit of that, but *shrug* I don’t know. Something about it was more frustrating then fun. Maybe it felt like with every “revaluation” there were too many questions? I don’t know… I can’t really explain it well. Can’t exactly put my finger on it. *Shrug* I just know that I felt a little less enthusiastic to continue reading because it sometimes felt like it was going nowhere.
When I got to the end, I wasn’t exactly sure what just happened. I’m not even exactly sure WHAT Bella and the final boss (sorry, I forgot his name, it was long and complicated) actually were? We had a great tension filled time getting to the final show down and then….. ummm….. what? Did I miss what was going on? Did I forget an early part of the book? WTF just happened? I want to rant more, so I’m going to put up a spoiler tag….
*BELOW THIS LINE ARE POSSIBLE SPOILERS AND LOTS OF RANTING**********************
Ok, so…… WHAT?? We get to the climatic ending. Bella is getting jars of mud… which I also never fully understood why we were collecting mud. Something about becoming human? Or getting power? Or…….uhh……? But it’s never explained satisfactory, or I forgot that part of the book that explained it? And then we have this epic bug filled final boss show up… a guy we have been hearing about through a lot of the book… and he is only there for like, 7 SECONDS! He just points. Literally… he just points at Bella, and she dies… WHAT?? Why?? I get it, he is this powerful…er…. dark wizard…? or something… but you gotta give me some sort of explanation other then finger point of doom, ok? -.- And Bella talked cryptically about these magic (??) people using her, and when she dies she crumples into mud in the river…. so WTF is Bella? Was she some sort of golem? But… that is more Jewish folk lore then UK. So is she more of a homunculus? That would fit more with UK old time alchemy. Is she some sort of witches familiar? I don’t know! See, too many questions! *Shrug* I don’t know. I don’t get it. I know at one point they explain Bella is really Bal or something but…. I don’t really get it. Maybe everything was just waaaaay too subtle? My brain isn’t really wired for extremely subtle things. -.-
The Wise Friend left me feeling like my cool new jigsaw puzzle I just finished was missing pieces and I was too stupid to figure out where I dropped them on the floor. That, my friends, is not a great feeling to have at the end of a book I just spent a lot of energy and time on. I don’t think this was a bad book. I just…. guess I didn’t exactly understand what was going on? And the dragging slow burn kind of hurt this book a little. I’m even a fan of slow burns but this was perhaps way too slow burny, if you know what I mean?