Because of how often it appears in the book, this review talks about rape. So, if you feel like this will affect you negatively, it’s probably best not to read it.
The Village That Fell Into Hell by John A Smith and David Charles Smith
Synopsis: John Card’s world changes on his honeymoon when he consults an ancient psychic woman who awaits him. She tells him that his perilous path is set and that he is to rebalance the yin and yang of destiny. Then she vanishes.
Edward Harding is a monster. His terrorised wife, Joanne, is unable to leave the village which lives by the evil Harding perpetrates. When it catches up with Joanne, her fate is sealed with horror beyond her wildest nightmares.
A spiritual medium later confirms what the psychic told John, but it also involves his wife and brother. With the medium’s help, they must seek Harding’s village and fight the evil that dwells there.
Their journey takes them through time and nations, meeting spirits who can advise or help them fight. Are they able to triumph over Harding’s evil forces and complete their quest? Or will his legacy prove too strong for them?
Warning: this review may contain spoilers.
Rating: FOUR (4) STARS (after quite a lot of deliberation)
Short Review: the book is well written with lots of complex ideas, good relationships shown between characters, and a well-developed backstory. However, although this book is listed as a horror/ghost story, I didn’t find it scary so much as deeply disturbing (and not in a good way.) It took me about 8 hours over the course of six weeks to read (although I’m currently a slow reader, so it realistically would take about a week for someone who reads every day.)
Plot: the main plot of the story is pretty simple: the two main characters, John and David, have been destined to take down the evil character (Edward Harding) and save the village that the characters they meet along the way are trapped in. And it’s pretty well-done. The characters are well established from the start.
The story is split into three sections;
The first is set in 1906, and tells the story of how Edward Harding tortures his wife Joanne and takes their children captive. John A Smith and David Charles Smith have done an excellent job of depicting just how evil Edward Harding is, and his dedication to his father George Henry Harding and to the devil is made clear from the start.
Joanne’s helplessness is well contrasted with her defiance against evil forces and her will to protect her children, and it goes together nicely with the way Harding’s control over the village is shown.
The second section of the book is set in 1994-1995. Here, the main characters John and David are fully introduced, along with John’s wife Elizabeth and a psychic medium called Mike.
Mike – although regularly mentioned throughout the book and definitely established enough as his own character – mainly seems to exist as a catalyst between the main characters and the “spirit realm”. In most of the scenes involving Mike, he is possessed by multiple spirits one after the other, which either help or hinder John and David.
The most helpful of these spirits is Anita, a woman with a cheeky sense of humour who tells them that they are destined to save the village as they lived there in their past lives.
In third third section of the book, the two worlds collide when John and David enter the spirit realm in order to physically help the villagers,
Something I noticed a lot was that this “destiny” is used to explain things a lot. For example, there are a number of times when the characters need to know an important piece of information in order to move on with their mission but there’s no way they could possibly know it. At this point, John will usually just “realize” what they need to do, and even says on a few occasions variations of “Don’t ask me how I know that, I just do.” and “I can just sense that this is what we’re supposed to do.” And they frequently trust these instincts because they have no other options.
This was the only real qualm I had with the plot. Mostly it was well knit together with only a few loose ends, although taking the ending into account (which I won’t spoil, but I didn’t actually like it) it seems as though the subplots that didn’t get tied off eluded to a possible sequel in the grand scheme of things. And, if there is a sequel, I’m invested enough that I’ll probably read it.
Characters: John and David.
I liked the relationship shown between the two main characters. They have a strong bond of trust, and I loved that they are unable to keep from having digs at each other, even in the most serious situations.
It was good to see David’s struggle with evil throughout the story. I like it when the “heroes” of a story aren’t wholly good – it makes for a more well-rounded character. I think this struggle with evil forces tied in nicely with his briefly mentioned struggle with depression. One of my favourite ideas to see in any genre of book is the once you’ve seen the darkness, it’s hard to keep away from it trope. Even though John seemed to be the more “main” character, David was my favourite of the two.
John is a strong-willed character and very much the leader of the group. He rarely shows any doubt, but I think this is a good thing because it makes the situation much more important when he does. And when he does is exactly what embodies this character; he only displays genuine doubt when the safety of his family is truly at stake. He is always able to inspire confidence in the people helping him, and is often the one holding the group together.
Of the “good spirits” they meet (who aren’t part of the village), two stood out to me the most.
Anita. As I’ve said, she is the most helpful to them. I liked the jokes she played on them sometimes and I genuinely looked forward to her her appearances in the book while I was reading it. She is very kind and reassuring.
Mountain Water. I didn’t like this character at all. Mountain Water is a Native American character in the spirit realm who, unfortunately, just seems to be included as a racist stereotype. Reading his sections made me uncomfortable, especially since everything he says is in pidgin English and I felt the emphasis on his limited English was unneeded. It can be difficult to get it right when writing the speech of a character whose first language isn’t English, but this was done so wrong. I also felt like Mountain Water did not actually help them in any way, especially because Anita reiterated everything he told them later on. It really seemed to me that this Native American character was only included because, y’know, spirits. He could have easily been removed from the story and it would have no detriment to what happened.
The Hardings. The two Harding men are undeniably evil. They are never displayed as having one ounce of good in them. Although I liked the persistence of these characters, they were easily defeatable every time, and their backstory was just more of them both doing evil things. I would have liked to see more backstory from them that wasn’t focused on hell and the devil. However, they are consistent throughout the story and are convincing as loud and intense enemies.
Dishonourable Mention: There is a lot of rape in this book.
Lust, sex, and rape have always been used to signify the presence of the devil in a story. However, I think this particular one went too far. There was literally not one instance of me reading this book where rape was not at least alluded to. There is such an unnecessary amount of rape, attempted rape, backstory involving rape, and threats of rape throughout. In fact, almost every time one of the evil spirits possesses Mike’s body, they literally scream that they are going to rape one of the female characters in the story.
I especially disliked the scene in which one of the Hardings is attempting to rape John’s wife Elizabeth, but is stopped my the power of Johns love for her. Also the scene where David is being raped by a female demon and it is heavily suggested that he is enjoying it but doesn’t want to.
Even the instances where I told myself it was to show something (for example, that the evil characters were evil), I was usually proved wrong. For example, in the first section of the book, Joanne is dragged into hell and raped by a giant spider, and I can only imagine this was done to show that the devil knows she is scared of spiders. Later on in the book, David is shown to be scared of spiders when they crawl into his mouth and ears. In my opinion, it is probably not a coincidence that only the female character was raped to show this fear.
Unfortunately, this started to ruin the book for me. It’s a little ridiculous, and it stopped being shocking before I had even reached the middle page. Every single graphic rape scene could have been taken out of this book and, if I’m honest, it probably would have improved the story as a whole.
Final Thoughts: I enjoyed most of this book. The characters are fleshed out, the plot is decent, and the bond between the characters is what really kept it together. When writing in future, I hope these authors consider another way of showing evil other than rape.
Thank you to Olympia Publishers, who sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.