The surreal unreality of the setup is most closely comparable to the Far Fetched Fiction™ of Robert Rankin, where Lovecraftian forces have a habit of manifesting in the unremarkable London suburb of Brentford, much to the irritation of its jaded populace. While a hamlet in the north of England might seem like an odd place for confrontations between good and evil to take place, there’s really no less reason why demonic forces shouldn’t make themselves known in a parochial backwater than the chaos-magnet metropolises they typically do.
There’s a quintessentially English feel to the story, as though the town of Widdowshins is a manifestation of what much of the world believes the whole country to consist of: the kind of rural village where the church is the most dominant landmark and the locals are an assortment of eccentrics subsisting on tea and biscuits.
Ainsworth clearly prides himself in presenting an authentic view of magic as practiced by modern day wiccans, and it’s only during passages imparting knowledge of the craft and the recitation of spells that his writing truly comes alive. The rich detail reveals a true passion for the subject, although mystical incantations conveniently taking the form of rhyming couplets may make some a little sceptical. Elderly witch Ruby clearly acts as a mouthpiece for his own beliefs, and her infallibility and comprehensive knowledge make the plot development rather brisk and its resolution somewhat matter of fact. She is also the only character with any real presence, as most of the myriad of oddballs have little depth to them and are merely along for the ride. As for the antagonist, the demon Rahab comes across like a stroppy teenager acting out because he’s bored. His lack of imagination prevents him from actually doing anything particularly serious and thus he barely convinces as any kind of realistic threat.
The Hand Over the Candle is a very short book, and the story feels like it’s only just got going before it’s all over. However, it serves as a swift introduction to the world of Widdowshins, and hopefully subsequent instalments will take us deeper into it.
THE HAND OVER THE CANDLE (WIDDOWSHINS BOOK ONE) / AUTHOR: RICHARD AINSWORTH / PUBLISHER: GREEN RAVEN MEDIA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW