343 PAGES · £12.99
Author: Steve Cockayne
For young Kenneth Storey, the countryside is a wondrous, magical place. Just beyond the garden wall of the family home, Headley House, lie a wood and a pond. When Kenneth goes through the gate, the wood becomes “the great forest of Arboria”, while the pond becomes a “long, deep, dangerous lake at the bottom of a deep, beautiful valley”.
Does this sound like a familiar idea? Certainly, the magical land that lies beyond an ordinary entranceway is a fantasy staple. Think of CS Lewis’s Narnia stories or even Doctor Who and the universe of possibilities that opens up when the Doc unlocks the TARDIS door. That’s not to say it’s an overly-familiar notion. Rather, it’s an idea with resonance.
In his first novel for younger readers, Steve Cockayne adds further resonance by spinning a Second World War tale of evacuees, awakening sexuality, class, traumatic loss and absent adults. Similarly, the author draws on the imagery of English mythology: Hearn – a deliberate misspelling of Herne (the mythological hunter) – and the Lord and Lady menacingly stalk these pages.
It makes for a rich brew, as Cockayne gradually ups the tension in a narrative that’s ultimately about getting lost in fantasy worlds. If only he had left it there. Instead, as events reach their climax, there’s an injection of shlock that jars, badly.
The Good People is a novel that confirms Cockayne’s status as a fantasy writer prepared to take risks, yet it’s also a book that leaves you thinking that he should concentrate on constructing new myths, as he did so triumphantly with the Legends of the Land sequence.