Tuesday 2 April 2024

All the Fiends of Hell


All the Fiends of Hell is the twelfth novel by Adam Nevill and the seventh to be published by his own imprint Ritual Limited. In keeping with the majority of the books previously published by Ritual, the cover is adorned with another stunning piece of art by Samuel Araya, employing once more their distinctive red and black palette.

The novel begins with an event somewhat akin to the evangelical Rapture in which populations are raised into the sky. However, this turns out not to be a resurrection, with the pure of heart taken directly to heaven to meet God, but rather the first step in an elimination of the human race by extraterrestrial visitors bent on…

Well, there’s the thing. The motivation behind the annihilation is never elucidated because the story unfolds via the viewpoint of Karl – ordinary, unexceptional and directionless as the book’s blurb describes him – a masterstroke by the author as it serves to increase the sense of confusion and dread the events of the first night and then the subsequent days instil in him and, thus vicariously, the readers. There’s no mention here of any government, scientific or military response (although, given the present incumbents of the Houses of Parliament, that response would probably “let’s see if it blows over” or, more likely, “how can we make money from this?”). This limited third person approach is hugely effective, distilling (presumably) global events down to the individual level.

Karl somehow survives the apocalyptic event and there follow a number of hugely atmospheric scenes in which he wanders the now deserted landscapes of his home town; scenes which bring to mind cinematic examples of the same scenario such as the various film versions of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, 28 Days Later and, of course, Romero’s Dead films. All of these, of course, have the added bonus of rampaging hordes of monsters added to the mix.

And such is the case with All the Fiends of Hell; bizarre creatures now roam the deserted streets, hunting down those who survived the initial cull in order to kill them. Cue some thrilling set-pieces in which Karl witnesses attacks by the creatures, as well as some “derelictions” in which he discovers the aftermath of the attacks.

The terrifying prospect of being hunted by the monsters is made even more so by the way in which they carry out the killings. Despite obviously having access to the advanced technology which brought about the initial Rapture (and to get into Earth’s orbit in the first place), the hunters resort to physical violence, snapping necks, in order perform their duty. Worse still, the bodies of those despatched are arranged into hideous displays.

This latter suggests a true malevolence to the invaders, an inference that they enjoy the act of killing and are proud of it. Despite its sci-fi trappings, All the Fiends of Hell is most definitely a horror story. Indeed, the original cull of victims also hints at this malevolence despite the lack of violence involved, the novel opening with Karl surrounded by his family, gently encouraging him to join them outside, the implication that something lovely awaits them there…

The horror here is decidedly cosmic. It’s a seam Adam has mined on many previous occasions but Fiends differs from his other novels in that, rather than the horror being confined to an individual or small group of people here it involves the entire planet. This is epic terror. The cosmic awe is skilfully created and enhanced by the imagery of the book; a red pall filling the sky, moving inexorably south and bringing with it the murderous fiends; within those red skies a huge, black object. One can imagine Denis Villeneuve having a field day transferring these visions to film but reading these passages I was put in mind of the apocalyptic paintings of John Martin, and in particular his The Great Day of his Wrath.

(Incidentally, this painting was apparently inspired by a trip to the Black Country, an area of the Midlands not far from where the opening chapters of the novel are set).

Comparisons can be drawn with Adam’s earlier novel Lost Girl. Both are apocalyptic novels – although that event is still awaiting completion in the earlier book – but something else which binds the two together is the theme of a father/daughter relationship. Whereas in Lost Girl, that relationship was a real one, here it’s the bond between Karl and an orphaned girl he discovers on his travels (along with her brother) and who becomes his charge which provides much of the narrative thrust of the novel. When the girl, Hayley, is abducted it becomes Karl’s mission (alongside finding safety of course) to track her down. Much in keeping with Lost Girl, the question of how far he will go to save her plays a big part in proceedings and, as with the earlier novel, the answer is startling – and horrific.

Whilst the scale of All the Fiends of Hell (albeit seen through the lens of individual experience) differentiates it from his other novels, there is still much of the Nevillesque on display here. Descriptions of smells which elicit childhood memories in Karl provide a hugely effective opening to the novel and it’s the distinctive aroma of chlorine which indicates the presence of the fiends. The fiends are classic Nevill creations too, although in many cases their forms are not entirely visible (something which only adds to their strangeness), what can be seen fits nicely into the Nevill template established in his earlier novels. The villain of the piece, Bob – who provides a human element of horror to proceedings – speaks with a heavy accent reminiscent of the scum of the earth the Father came across in Lost Girl and one of Adam’s foulest creations, Knacker McGuire of No One Gets Out Alive.

And, of course, the colour red plays a prominent role, with the ominous pall that covers the sky and marks the progress of the alien invaders casting its ruddy illumination over the world, creating an image of Hell on Earth.

Cosmic awe and existential dread make fine bedfellows and rarely have the two been combined to such devastating effect as in All the Fiends of Hell. Come story’s end the invaders remain as enigmatic and unknowable as they were at the outset, something which only adds to their horror. Whilst the book’s opening played with the idea of faith - the hints at some kind of Rapture type event are overt – the chance of salvation presented here relies entirely upon it, with little more than rumours that the sea offers a means of escape driving the characters to the south coast. It’s a book that in one regard shows the power of the human spirit whilst at the same time demonstrating humanity’s insignificance in the grand, cosmic, scheme of things. It’s a fine addition to Adam’s oeuvre and one I thoroughly recommend.

No comments:

Post a Comment