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Once - James Herbert

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Author: James Herbert / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 04 May 2007 / Genre: Horror / Subcategory: Horror & Ghost Stories General / Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Title: Once / ISBN 13: 9780330451833 / ISBN 10: 0330451833 / Alternative EAN: 9780330451833

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    14 Reviews
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      14.11.2012 20:34

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      A brilliant adult faery tale!

      This was the first James Herbert book I ever read, after a friend recommended it to me and I absolutely loved it! It is certainly one of my favourite books and one of the very few I could read again. From the very first page I was hooked.

      It is essentially a grown up 'faery' story, yep that is faery not fairy as this is not a story which paints all mythical (or are they??!) creatures in a magical and innocent light, it is a very dark tale.

      This book asks 'Remember the faery stories you were told when you were a child?'......'What if one day you found out they were true?'.

      It is a tale about Thom Kindred and the tale begins with him returning to his childhood home, Castle Bracken. Be prepared to follow his journey as he encounters the Good and the Bad, the hellhagges and the demons, the witches and elves. I won't go into the story too much as it is far better to discover it yourself, as it really does bring the magic you felt as a child reading a new story into a more adult perspective.

      This dark horror is erotic in parts, magical all throughout and downright terrifying towards the end. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is intrigued as I can describe how fantastic it is enough to do it justice!

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      27.02.2012 13:25
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      An adult fairy tale with occasionally a little too much emphasis on the "adult"

      Once is something of a departure for renowned horror writer James Herbert. Although it certainly contains elements of horror, it is arguably more an adult fantasy/fairy tale. A tale of fairies, elves and witches, even the title is deliberately evocative of those tales which gripped us as children and always began "once upon a time...".

      Once focuses on Thom Kindred, a young man slowly recovering from a stroke who returns to his childhood home to convalesce. Hidden in the wood close to where he is staying, he discovers a world of fairy folk he had forgotten ever existed and becomes embroiled in a fight with evil forces which threaten to destroy human and fairy folk alike.

      You could argue that Once is at the same time overblown and simplistic. If you boil the plot down to its absolute basics, you could make a case for it being nothing more than a simple tale of Good vs. Evil which takes a long time in the telling and conforms pretty much to genre expectations.

      Then again, you could say that about an awful lot of books and films. What matters is not the somewhat predictable outcome to the story, but rather the journey that takes you there. Herbert fills his world with an incredible array of fantastical creatures from myths and legends, making them feel so real that you are instantly transported back to the fairy tales of your youth. Unlike other fantasy authors (like Tolkien), he doesn't get bogged down in creating complex mythologies for each races, but just states that they exist. So firm and convincing is he in this his belief that the reader simply accepts it within the context of the book.

      This is the most crucial element. Unlike Tinkerbell, you might not believe in fairies, but you will believe in the world(s) which Herbert has created. His real skill is in presenting a world which is recognisably ours in almost every detail. At the same time, he juxtaposes another realm on top of this; a world where fairies and humans inhabit the same space, but in which their paths rarely cross. Without too much fanfare or fuss, Herbert creates a "real" world setting we instantly accept as our own, yet convincingly combines it with one where the strange and unusual is are easy to accept.

      Herbert demonstrates a fair degree of narrative skill in creating this atmosphere. The idea of fairies and goblins and elves inhabiting our world might seem ludicrous to your logical mind, yet for as long as you are reading this book, you will firmly believe that it is possible. Herbert recreates the sort of wonder and magic that you felt when reading fairy tales as a young child, taking those basic building blocks we will all recognise, but turning them to a slightly darker purpose. It's never self-referential or knowing (save for one clunky reference to Bjork and neither a parody or homage to fairy tales: it is simply a good story, well told. This sense of atmosphere is backed up by some excellent colour drawings (in the hardback edition at least) which really help to bring to life some of the fantastical creatures Herbert has conjured up.

      Of course, because it is such a departure from Herbert's normal horror stuff, some people will feel disappointed by the sudden change. It's always dangerous for an author to move too far away from fan base expectations, but it seems to give Herbert a new lease of life, freeing him from the constraints of those expectations and giving him an opportunity to indulge his storytelling talents and imbue them with a fresh perspective.

      The writing style is readable, blending old-fashioned story book language with modern narrative techniques. This fusion of new and old creates quite a unique feel. Although chapters are fairly lengthy, there are regular breaks built in, making this an easy book to just pick up and read when you have a few minutes. Mind you, you will become so engrossed in Kindred's world that you won't want to put it down. Although it's difficult to put your finger on exactly why, right from the start this book will grip you. The characters are highly interesting and, whether human or fairy, you want to find out more about their backgrounds, hopes and fears. Even though not a great deal seems to happen for long stretches, you will nevertheless find yourself enthralled by the wonderful world which Herbert has conjured from his imagination. The slower pace also benefits the book, allowing the author to gradually build the sense of menace and danger so that, almost imperceptibly, initial feelings of wonder turn to ones of unease and fear. The ending might be slightly predictable and hackneyed, but at least it is appropriate within the context of the rest of the book.

      True, there are a couple of slightly over-stretched religious metaphors and a few clumsy attempts to make this tale seem deeper and more meaningful than it is, but these can be excused.

      The one exception (and the one thing that continues to put me off James Herbert as an author) is his obsession with sex. I'm certainly no prude, so it's not any puritanical believes that drive this criticism. I also fully accept that a lot of ancient myths, customs and beliefs were based around the ideas of sex and fertility and there is a strong argument to be made that many fairy tales contain such adult themes. In that sense, Herbert is being faithful to his "source material", simply drawing it out more explicitly. My real issue comes with that "explicitly". Herbert seems obsessed with describing sexual acts in tedious, microscopic detail. Descriptions of sex between characters are regular and lengthy - often going on for 3 or 4 pages. Not only does this quickly become tiresome, it's also about as erotic as being slapped with a wet kipper by a big fat man wearing nappies (unless that's your thing, of course; in which case I apologise!). Other than indicating a growing bond of tenderness or abuse of power between characters, these elongated sequences only serve to slow the book down and make it a slightly dangerous one to read in public. I got into the habit of skipping over these dull passages until the story proper was taken up again.

      For me, this is Herbert's one great failing as an author and the key reason why I don't read his book as often as I read those of other horror authors. His basic stories are usually interesting and his writing style gripping and evocative. He doesn't need to "spice things up" through the addition of lashings of sex and his books are arguably all the poorer for it.

      It's for that reason and that reason alone that Once loses a star. Other than that, if you thought you were too old for fairy tales now, just read this and let James Herbert change your mind.

      Basic Information
      ------------------------
      Once
      James Herbert
      MacMillan, 2001
      ISBN: 978-0333761403

      (c) Copyright SWSt 2012

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        30.09.2011 13:50
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        I loved this book from start to finish, despite blushing over some of the scenes!

        REASONS FOR PURCHASE

        I'd just finished a brilliant James Herbert novel, "The Magic Cottage", and had been keeping my eyes peeled for another one. Because I'm so keen to find bargains, I trawled my local charity shops until I found this one.

        When I picked this up my friend laughed. Obviously I couldn't see the humour, so I had to ask why! She just told me "You'll see!". I'll go into a bit more detail in my review, but just be warned, this book has some very adult content, which gets very very explicit! (In my opinion anyway, but maybe I'm a prude!).


        AMAZON'S PRODUCT DESCRIPTION AND PRICE

        EDIT - I have removed the book's synopsis from my review since this has offended another dooyoo member. If you want to read the actual synopsis of the book, you can of course do so at www.amazon.co.uk.

        The Amazon.co.uk paperback price for this book is £5.44, although you can pick it up second hand (still from Amazon.co.uk) for as little as 1p! I'm assuming postage and packaging will be charged as well, but it still seems like a bit of a bargain to me!

        I purchased my copy from a Cancer Research charity shop for £1.49.

        A LITTLE ABOUT THE STORY

        Without giving anything away, here is a little bit of background to the story!

        Thom, the lead character, has just returned to his childhood home after suffering from a stroke. He's a 27 year old carpenter, who up until this point, attended boarding school, then went to live and work in London.

        Sadly, his mother passed away when Thom as a child, and ever since then he's been taken care of by Sir Russell, the owner of the manor house on which Thom's cottage is situated. Thom's mother was the personal tutor to Hugo, Sir Russell's son. She lived in the cottage on the grounds with Thom, until she passed away.

        Thom returns to this cottage to relax into the country way of life while he recovers from his stroke.

        The story develops with introductions to more of the characters. There's Hugo, the ever so posh, nice, slightly dim son of Sir Russell. The groundskeeper and Sir Russell's assistant, both of whom Thom remembers from his childhood. Katie his physiotherapist. Nell, the nurse / alternative therapist, who takes care of Sir Russell (he is now very old and terminally ill). Of course, there are more supernatural characters too, but I don't want to give any of the plot away!

        As Thom settles back into country life, he remembers more about the castle grounds woodland, meets interesting new characters, and begins on an adventure that soon turns into a quest!

        MY OPINIONS

        I was quickly drawn into this story, pretty much by the first page. I always find that impressive since there have been so many books that I've had to force myself to plow into.

        As with 'The Magic Cottage', James Herbert makes sure that the lead character has the perfect balance of being likeable, interesting, but not overly 'goody two shoes' in that often typical hero or heroinne style. Thom Kindred is very down to earth, and the reader will immediately identify with him and want to read on to find out what he'll get up to!

        Sometimes with this book, I'd get so into the storyline that I'd be almost skim reading to find out what would happen next. If you read this book please don't make that same mistake! Herbert's style of writing is beautifully descriptive, and if you slow down so that you can take it all in, you'll have fantastically clear images in your head that paint the scenes perfectly (whether they're good, bad or just plain frightening)!

        What I enjoyed most in this book, are the little twists and turns, and how seemingly insignificant parts of the story would develop, open up, and take you by surprise! There were no loose ends that bothered me when I finished the book. This is an issue that I've often found disappointing, especially in the thriller/chiller/supernatural genre.

        Throughout the story the characters and settings are described so vividly. Unfortunately, so are the 'intimate' scenes! It seems as though James Herbert can (and will!) go into detail with everything and anything! I was surprised at how early into the story these intimate scenes begin. You'd maybe expect one or two scenes of this nature in a novel intended for adults, but in this book you're looking at one a chapter. And they go on for pages and pages. By the end of the book, I knew to just skim these! After all, I read on the tube and train, and I don't want anyone to blush if they're looking over my shoulder! I've seen other reviews that mention this, and other reviewers felt as though it was padding and that there wasn't enough material for a story without it. I strongly disagree with this. It might be a shorter book without 'the scenes', but it's still a great story and could stand alone as a smaller book, no problem. I'm inclined to overlook this issue; reading about these things in too much detail isn't my cup of tea, but I can appreciate that they're very well written. I know a lot of people enjoy a bit of sauciness in their literature too! All I will say is, you'll definitely know that their written by a man! :P

        So yes, and there you have the reason why my friend laughed at me for picking up this book! She'd read it and had been taken very much by surprise!

        My favourite part of this book was the ending. The last few chapters and the build up to them are just perfect. Beautifully written, the scenes and events described so well. Again, I had to force myself not to read too quickly and miss all the wonderful descriptions! You can lose yourself in these last few chapters and really feel like you're there!

        Finally..... what disappointed me about 'The Magic Cottage' was that I wanted more of a follow up on all the characters after the main event had taken place. With 'Once' I actually wasn't left disappointed at all! James Herbert made sure to let us know what happened to everyone at the end and didn't leave any loose ends whatsoever.

        All in all, a brilliant supernatural chiller that will quickly draw you in! I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a little bit of escapism from time to time! But I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who is offended by adult content!

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          27.09.2010 23:29
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          This is a long read, the hardback version consisting of 470 pages,priced at £16.99.

          The book starts off in quite an interesting manner, 27 year old Thom Kindred is experiencing a stroke,we move on quickly to find him returning to his childhood home, for a lengthy period of convalescence. Thoms' childhood home is an ancient cottage set within woodland, in the grounds of a Stately Home, Castle Bracken. Thom is the only child of Bethan, a single mother who commited suicide when Thom was 10. His boyhood friend Hugo still lives at Castle Bracken, as does Hugos father, Sir Russell Bleeth, now seriously ill and bedridden,and their creepy manservant Hartgrove. Bethan was previously a servant working at the estate.

          Amazingly Thom longs to be on his own at the cottage, despite its rundown and musty character, a glimpse of something strange scuttling across the landing, a flying plate, and some strange night time visions. There is also a sinister magpie flitting around outside. Most worrying of all I should think Thom starts to see fairy figures flying around outside, and witnesses a beautiful naked girl masturbating in the woods.This scene is described in thorough detail, I could not help but visualise the author beavering away, typing up this scene, which must have taken up several hours at least, or possibly days.Thom is unable to remember witnessing any fairies as a child, but is totally convinced of his own sanity.

          The ability which Thom has to see fairies (or faeries), goblins and the like is explained to him by the beautiful Jennet, who is an undine, a mermaid-like creature, who lives in the lake. Thom has a gift, posessed by only a very few humans, which means he can adapt his level of conciousness to perceive a shifting and ethereal world, which exists parallel to our own. This gift may sometimes be posessed by the very young, but becomes lost as they grow older.

          This world is very much ruled by powers of good, and evil. Evil, in an extreme form threatens Thom's world. Thom experiences a terrifying night time encounter with a succibus, but I mustn't give away too much of the plot, except to say that the conflicts between good and evil lead on to some more extended, and graphic sex scenes, some of which are violent and unpleasant. These must take up a few chapters, as mentioned this is a very long book.

          The climax (so to speak) of the book is an epic tussle between good and evil, worthy of Dennis Wheatley.

          I hope I haven't sounded too scathing in this revue, as I am usually one of James Herbert's greatest fans. The first book of his that I read one Christmas was 'The Magic Cottage' which I found difficult to put down, some of his other books are short, but brilliant in my opinion. Even'Once' is highly readable, as James Herbert has the story tellers art, but my criticisms are that it is too long, contains too many fairytale creatures,it contains too many sub plots,and I hesitate to say this, but some of the sex seems gratuitous.

          So, thumbs down I'm afraid, and a 2 star rating

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          26.11.2009 11:36
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          Worst Herbert novel by a long chalk

          I love fantasy! What type you may ask? Is it the type that has beardy dwarves roaming Great Plains as they throw axes at pompous elves? Or the type that makes you think of the boudoir and naughty naughties? It seems that James Herbert, master of horror, may have got the two mixed up in 'Once'. A book that contains both fairies and frolicking. When you sit down to read a horror or fantasy book you don't expect to be bombarded with erotica! Can a book filled to the gills with poorly written filth still work?

          When Thom Kindred has a stroke at the young age of 27 his doctors think that he has a good chance of returning to a normal life if he spends a prolonged time relaxing. The perfect place for this seems to be at the woodland cottage that he grew up in. Little has changed on the estate over the years, but when his friend Hugo (the son of the Lord of the Manor) hires the mysterious Nell to nurse him, things begin to change. All of a sudden Thom is pitched into a battle between good and evil; witches and fairies. Can he discover who his enemy is before they kill him?

          As a fan of James Herbert's other works, 'Once' is a bitter blow. I am used to classic horror from the writer that is skilfully told, if a little old fashioned. Books like 'Fluke' have proven that he can cross genres, so it makes the abject failure of 'Once' all the more surprising. At its core the book is a horror novel, but this is only apparent towards the final 50 pages or so, up till this point it is a whimsical fantasy about a man rediscovering the fairies of his childhood. The plot is plodding at best and 100 pages will go between moments of significance.

          How does Herbert fill these pages in-between moving the story on? With tepid sex scenes, not just one or two, but several. These are not quick paragraphs either, but pages of it. There is an award each year for the worst sex scenes in fiction and I have to assume that Herbert was nominated in 2001. I am not a huge fan of erotica at the best of times, but bad erotica is just awful. Herbert's poetic style leads to a romantic portrayal of love making, but he throws in clinical words that jar. When in passion, call me old fashioned, but terms such as fissure, cleft and protuberance are not the most pleasant to hear. The various scenes that include; love with an Elf, love with a witch and mistaken love with a goblin, are all a little bile inducing and make you uncomfortable.

          The repeat trips in to the world of 'Emmanuelle' are so prevalent that they do dominate the book and make it a bad read. This is a shame as every once in a while you come across a segment that proves that Herbert is a good writer. Nell, the witch, is an interesting enough character who uses her knowledge and beauty to attract victims. This does work and would still have worked if she had kept her clothes on. I also liked the horror elements towards the end as the world begins to unravel. This is classic Herbert, but it is too little, far too late.

          It appears to me that James Herbert has mixed up his fantasy fiction with his fantasies. More than in any of his other novels I have read there is a preoccupation with sex. An undercurrent of lust can give a novel passion and thrills, but in the case of 'Once' it makes the read an uncomfortable one. The mixture of romanticised language and almost medical references is jarring at best, upsetting at worst. One scene could have been forgiven as an aging author's folly, but 4 or 5 is just someone indulging themselves in bad writing. The glimmers of decent fiction are hidden under a sea of writhing fissures and wonky protuberances. James Herbert may claim to be the crown Prince of horror, but on evidence of this novel he certainly is not the King of fantasy. Even fans of the author will struggle to enjoy this book

          Author: James Herbert
          Year: 2001
          Price: amazon uk - £5.96
          play.com - £5.99

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            07.11.2008 09:56
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            A good story, well plotted with only minor flaws

            James Herbert has for many years been at the forefront of British horror writing. His output hasn't been prodigious but for the main part, it has been well crafted and original.

            This book is described thus: 'A scary Tale of Faerefolkis & Evildoers, of Lovers & Erotic Passion, of Horror & Belief. Written only for Adults by James Herbert'.

            I can't argue with this description, provided by Herbert himself. In fact, should I bother with the rest of this opinion? Well, yes, I think I should.

            Each part of the book is introduced by the author in the old fashioned tradition of a brief synopsis of the part. For example,

            Part one is introduced thus: 'In which a young man returns to his childhood home and learns of things he never though possible'.

            A nice touch and fits with Herberts aim to produce an old-fashioned fairy tale for grown ups. However, you can get too much of a good thing.

            The main character in the book is Thom Kindred (yes, really!) - I don't know if it's just me, but I find this name just a little too quaint, a little too whimsical perhaps? He's a master carpenter, at one with the wood he uses, able to delve deep into the soul of his materials (extremely useful, nay essential for making a kitchen chair, I bet!). Of course, life is never simple and a recent stroke suffered whilst driving has left him with limited, but slowly returning, use of his left arm and leg. To aid his recuperation, he returns to his childhood home, a small woodland cottage (what else?) situated on the estate of his benefactor, Sir Russell Bleeth. His best childhood friend, Hugo Bleeth (son of Sir Russell) has awaited his return and has made arrangements for the beautiful Nell Quick to minister to our stricken heroes every need! Thom is also attended by his physiotherapist, Katy Budd, who seems more interested in Thom's working parts than those affected by his stroke. Oh, do we see the some rivalry creeping in here or what?

            So, the cast of humans is established - but all is not quite as it appears on the surface. Well, of course it isn't. Thom is subject to some strange events, things that bump in the night, the usual clichés. He becomes friendly with Rigwit the elf, who appears one night and naturally our hero isn't too phased by this (I might have examined the leaflet that came with the medication as a first step, but not our Thom!). He also comes across a beautiful young half fairy (Jennet) surrounded by glowing, darting lights, lying naked in the wood and paying a lot more attention to herself than would normally be deemed healthy or decent in a public place. Of course, there are nasty ghouls and goblins too, and it's not too long before Thom discovers hidden family secrets and becomes drawn into not only the evils of man, but also the age-old battle between man and the fairies, and internecine battles of the fairy folk. Unsurprisingly, it seems Thom's mother was not quite what she seemed. Neither is anybody else.

            His return to the childhood home shared with his deceased 'child of nature' mother has obviously stirred everyone up (should have stayed at home Thom). As with most heroes, he has a 'pathological fear' of spiders is highlighted in the early chapters of the book (well, when I say highlighted, I mean that Herbert goes to almost ludicrous lengths to make me sure we, the dumb reader, have understood this notion) and it's no real surprise when things get really nasty for Thom, there are spiders involved.

            That's enough of the plot and characters, as any more might spoil the book for you. You may not be surprised to learn that I personally don't regard this as one of Herbert's better efforts. Having said that, it's not a bad book at all. The plot and character development, although somewhat clichéd and a bit too whimsical for my comfort, move at a good pace, are well structured and crafted with more than enough twists and turns to the storylines to keep you interested to the last page. There's sex, there's horror, there's revelation, there's love - what more do you want?

            Go on, give it a try; despite my reservations it's a good, old-fashioned fairy story with the traditional ending.

            This also appears on Ciao under my name MarkKerr

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              26.07.2008 19:56

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              Maybe the only James Herbert book I would never read again

              I used to be very excited when a new James Herbert book was coming out and "Once" was no exception. But I was not entirely impressed by this tale of fairies and what not. I am not entirely sure what had changed. Was it me? Had I grown out of James Herbert. Or was it something else? Naturally I decided to reread one of his earlier works just to see if it had the same effect on me. But the magic was still there. I enjoyed it thoroughly. So what was it about this book that I couldn't quite get a grip on? I am still not entirely sure. I have continued to read James Herbert and it seems like this is an exception rather than a rule. I know I can't be objective here - but what review ever goes beyond subjective, really? It is my least favourite of all his novels, which is a shame because it was a very interesting concept.

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              17.10.2004 11:05
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              "Once…upon…a…death.." is a unique way to open a story but then James Herbert has a penchant for uniqueness that keeps him at the top of the British horror writing totem pole. This was the only remaining book of his that I hadn’t read, what with this particular author dominating his genre since the early 1970’s.

              Thom Kindred is a 27-year-old male who has just had a stroke. A self-made man with his own furniture-making business, he is severely affected and travels back to Castle Bracken in Shropshire to recuperate. The stroke had caused him to crash his car although a mysterious golden light had fleetingly appeared in his eye line just as the crash occurred. This becomes significant later in the plot.

              Castle Bracken is an ancestral home set deep in the countryside. Replete with sprawling grounds, an austere owner and a faithful but scary man servant, Castle Bracken is the archetypal English stately home that looks more at home in a ghost story. Thom is allowed the use of Little Bracken – a twee cottage that backs onto beautiful yet ominous woodlands.

              During his convalescence, Thom is reacquainted with his boyhood friend – Hugo Bleeth – son of Russell Bleeth, the owner of the residence and all the accompanying lands. Thom's relationship with Hugo is that of boyhood friend and Russell Bleeth as generous benefactor during a difficult upbringing due to the death of his mother and previous disappearance of his unknown father.

              The story really gets going with the introduction of Nell Quick, the alluring, yet dangerous, housekeeper who pops in on Thom to check his progress. Thom finds himself attracted and yet repelled by her presence suggesting an alternative agenda hidden amongst the flirtatious chat that soon follows their meeting.

              One fine day, Thom decides to take a stroll in the woods. It’s not long before he encounters curious bright lights that hover a bit like dragonflies although with “…tiny, almost pellucid wings”. On going deeper into the woods he discovers a beautiful, sylph-like girl, masturbating in a small clearing. Thom finds that he simply has to watch although the subsequent assault by a variety of strange creatures as he runs away after being discovered makes him wonder whether it was a good idea after all.

              Having returned to the cottage, Thom soon finds himself asleep, exhausted from the events in the woods. However, the sexual dream he has soon turns into a nightmare as he finds an ugly creature called a Succubus trying to steal his semen via oral sex (the woman writhing with him in his dream turns out to be the creature in reality). Fortunately, Thom is aided by a small, wee man called Rigwit who is a kind of elf-cum-pixie who helps our hero get rid of the nasty creature. Thom is left to reflect on how a seemingly normal existence has spiralled into a world of fantasy straight out of a Victorian picture book.

              By now you may get an idea where this plot is going. The threads may make you wonder what Nell Quick’s agenda is; what will be the impact of Russell Bleeth’s death and who and what are all of these sprite like faery creatures?

              Once is an interesting departure for Herbert into a land of faeries and elves. You could be forgiven for thinking that the great British doyen of Horror Land had been reading Tolkien or maybe JM Barrie, such is the sprinkling of macabre pixie dust that comes with this particular territory. I suspect that Conan Doyle would have been an influence during the writing of this story too. OK, this book does work. The reason it works is because of Herbert's natural ability to build a story and gauge the pace so that it quickens as you press on through the chapters. For me, this kept the pages turning even though it isn't one of his stronger books.

              Probably the book’s greatest strength is the author’s immaculate pen pictures of his main characters. Thom Kindred is the kind of under-played hero that we would all like to be (although the carpenter parallels with Jesus towards the end are plain barmy) whilst Nell and Hugo are pantomime villains with enough shaded grey to make the reader uncertain as to whether dislike them or pity them for their relative inadequacies. I particularly liked the Nell Quick character as her foibles as an attractive kind of metaphorical historical figure with a basket of oranges fit for a king contrasted with her darker Wiccan motives that provide the catalyst for the story. Typically descriptive, Herbert describes Nell Quick “…Long black hair fell in wild tangles to her shoulders and her eyes, set wide above her wide cheekbones, matched its darkness. Hollowed cheeks led to a firm but gently pointed jaw and her nose, while still feminine, was strong, the nostrils flared slightly.” It’s the power to paint a picture in the readers mind that enables the author to move his characters around and create a 3-D image that’s as powerful as anything on screen.

              As always, Herbert’s almost rhythmic style is easy to read. Chapters are short and punchy with his tried and tested cliff-hanger finish to each one designed to keep the reader interested. On this occasion, the magnitude of the cliff-hangers is less than usual although this didn’t diminish the way the story accelerates as it goes along.

              On the debit side, the plot is well worn. A mesh of duplicitous villains, intercepted wills and evil witches has been done before and probably better than this. Just to compound the potential flaws in this effort, there are several lengthy passages that centre on sexual encounters including one lesbian exchange that lasts for several pages. Nothing wrong with that, per se, although some will baulk at such graphic depiction whilst the ensuing violence following one exchange is cringe inducing even for Herbert. Moreover, the amount of sexual content overall is far more than I’ve been used to in any of Herbert’s previous books. To be fair, it’s hardly gratuitous and reasonably well described for a writer not renowned for erotic content.

              Herbert does manage a big finish as you would expect although there isn’t really a significant twist as such. The threads are brought together neatly with some crossing over of sub-plots which explain more about Thom’s parents and his true relationship with those established family members at Castle Bracken.

              I did wonder whether I would enjoy this one. Having read the first few chapters, the notion of faeries and elves seemed lame but James Herbert’s overriding ability to weave a tale and his flowing style recovered things enough to present an enjoyable read. This won’t be for everyone especially with so much sexual content but it’s unusual enough to warrant a few hours of most people’s time and, of course, it completes my set.

              Thanks for reading

              Marandina

              Notes: 470pp ISBN 0-330/37613-6

              Book originally retailed at £6.99, published by Pan Books. I should imagine you can pick up a copy for next to nothing via Amazon or even try your library for a copy.


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                08.04.2003 00:26
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                In my teenage years I saw far too many horror films for my own good and my Dad's fascination with Stephen King books soon had me dipping into pages that teemed with every known nightmare, plus a good few more that I wish I'd never discovered. There would be many nights spent supine on the bed, shaking hands holding some or other spooky novel, hair standing on end and light switched to on ever after. Adjacent to King on my Dad's bookshelf were a smattering of James Herbert books and inevitably I decided to delve into his prose. The only book I ever got around to reading of his though was Fluke; wonderful dogs-eye view of the world and a great story. After that I seemed to become more and more reluctant to read horror - probably as I'd had one too many spooky experiences of my own. Anyway - life moves on and despite the fact that I can't even watch the trailers for The Shining I was curious when my friend told me about 'Once'. "I've started this book" she said. "It's really misogynistic and it's driving me mad but it's about faeries and stuff so you might like it". Well - obviously I wasn't thrilled at the idea of reading a women hating book but then I was also curious - more so when my friend informed me it was by James Herbert. I also don't tend to notice patriarchal writing unless it's particularly offensive whereas my friend is perhaps more sensitive to this. I read the blurb and found my curiosity growing. "Read it if you want" my friend said "I'm not going to finish it" The chance didn't come to start the book until a long and boring train ride. The thought of 5 hours of unbroken travel had my nose in the book within 5 minutes. Thom Kindred is the 'hero' of the piece. After a stroke Thom returns to his old home to recuperate - a cottage lying in the rambling grounds of an old mansion owned by his
                friends father. Woodland surrounds the cottage (Little Bracken) and it is here that Thom suddenly discovers that the faeries and elves of storybooks are actually real - along with all the goblins and demons and things that go *bump* in the night! What follows is a terrifying tale of Thom's growing realisation that all is not well on the estate and that something dark is gradually gripping the landscape. Well I say terrifying... I think it's meant to be. I guess it would be for some people but to be honest there was nothing here that made my spine tingle as such. Several chapters in, I could relate to my friends aversion to the book as each new female character seemed to be there to entertain Thom's seemingly constant thoughts about sex. Not that I have a problem with that of course except there is a fine border between erotic and porn and I don't want to read porn - it's boring. The novel is described as erotic and it is only by the saving grace of character Jennet that it can perhaps pass as such. Until her appearance I was beginning to think that Herbert couldn't get into the mind of a female character (but could quite happily get into her body!). I did have a little giggle at Herberts cheeky way of naming characters Thom KINDRED, Nell QUICK, Katy BUDD - he makes absolutely no attempt to disguise that these names are blatantly descriptive of some element of the character (or the part they play in the story). It's almost tacky. In fact, talking to my friend about the book she came up with a really excellent description for it. "It's rather like watching a Hammer House of Horror film" she said. The set is a bit wobbly, story contrived, characters have little depth but somehow you keep watching because it's just good enough to be a bit entertaining and it has a charm all of it's own. The 'it's so bad it's good' syndrome. I wouldn't say
                Once is actually a bad novel because I did read it to the end and I did want to keep reading it. I was incredibly irritated by the misuse of the word Wicca but also kept reminding myself that this was a novel not a 'how-to' non-fiction book on the Craft - plus it doesn't do to take oneself or ones spiritual path so seriously! By half-way through the book I finally accepted the characters as they were and stopped waiting for some unusual twist in the tale or some character depth to show and enjoyed it all the more for that general 'giving-in'. Herbert's finest quality in my opinion is his powers of description. He really does have a way with words when he describes the forest and the fey folk. His language is rich and colourful (not the swearing kind!) and is very much like watching a painting unfold. It is perhaps this more than anything else that kept me reading because such passages were a joy. Personally I think his editor could have done with reading the book a bit more closely as there are a couple of changes of character point of view that are utterly clumsy not to mention occasional repetitions of phrase that I think should have been changed. Plus there was a partially unexplained thread early on that left me still wondering and waiting for a resolution at the end. Overall this is an enjoyable book if you are not expecting anything too original. I pre-empted all the plot twists and characters fall neatly into good, bad and stupid not to mention good old fashioned stereotyped witches and 'facing your darkest nightmare' stuff. It does have a charm perhaps simply because it doesn't require too much brain work - it's easy reading and the author doesn't try to stretch your imagination too far. Plus the landscape and tone of the book has a typically 'English' feel which I rather like and is perhaps intentionally reminiscent of the great gothic novels. Personally I thought Fluke
                was a far superior book but then I haven't read any other novels by Herbert (and I adore dogs!). This hasn't put me off reading his other works and I shall endeavour to examine his other tales to see how they fair against Once. After all, having sold over 40 million books and written 20 novels this is a man not short on imagination and the love of storytelling and for that I can only have respect. For more information about the man and his work go to http://www.james-herbert.co.uk/titles.htm

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                  02.08.2002 19:38
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                  Ah, not wrote any book reviews yet, this my first but not my last, I’ll review the more bizarre and twisted at a later date but for now…… Once…………James Herbert Just finished reading this after starting it 3 months ago and then moving house and losing the book. It’s another JH special with all the things that make Herbert a brilliant author included, the classic English rural setting, the mysterious buildings, the eerie atmospheres and the odd characters. The story starts with the introduction to the main character Thom, he is an English man who was brought up on a country estate in a manor house on the grounds of a castle named Bracken. Thom hasn’t had it so good, although he is young (28ish), he has suffered a stroke and is in need of some serious rest in his life. He is invited to stay back at the lodge where he was brought up as a boy by the owner of castle Bracken or more specifically the owners son, Hugo, who was his childhood friend. Thom has a physiotherapist called Katy who comes to see him from time to time to help him exercise his debilitated muscles. All goes well initially as Thom regains some of his strength and begins to re-explore the castle grounds he loved as a child. Herbert describes the woodland and the grounds of the castle with nostalgic, dreamy and awesomely vivid writing which makes him one of my favourite authors. Thom visits the castle to pay his respects to the now terminally ill owner and meets his full time carer who was hired by his son, Nell Quick. Nell is described wonderfully as the Irish darling with flowing black hair and “olde worlde” clothes and ways, she cares for Castle Brackens old boy with her potions and brews. All pretty tame so far! Strange things begin to happen soon after when Thom starts hearing odd noises in the night, scraping and shuffling and such. Things get ev
                  en weirder when he starts exploring the surrounding woods with more frequency, the beautiful begins to turn sinister and trees that he loved as a child seem somehow wicked. Herbert builds the story in a way that I could only dream of writing and introductions to the “faeriefolke” are superbly done and kept mysterious for a long time in the book with more and more odd events taking place that Thom refuses to believe are real. After her initial meeting with Thom, Nell becomes quite friendly, overly friendly in fact. She makes several passes at Thom and is rather over keen to get him into bed. Nell quickly begins to turn into the character that always draws me to Herberts books, it turns out she’s a witch. I’m not giving the story away and so much has happened by this point in the book that the reader can be dizzied by it all. Suffice to say Katy the physiotherapist has a nasty accident and Thom’s old pal Hugo is not what he initially appears to be !? Now, this is after a all described as “A fairy tale for adults”, and yet at first some of the descriptions of fairies and the like are very childish, but that apparently is the point, Herbert brings the child world and the adult world together perfectly and seems to answer every question I would have put to him about the book as it is read. Enter Jeanette the fairy, a hard-core porno couldn’t be any more descriptive as we are introduced to Jeanette as she masturbates gleefully under a tree with many much smaller sprites all get off on watching!!! Great stuff which is definitely adult only literature. Jeanette turns out to be Thoms guide and ultimately his saving grace as well as being a bit of a babe ! The battle between good and evil begins and it is riveting as the reader pieces together the story and quite often looks up from the book and goes “aaaaaahhhhhhh, I get it now”. The plot thickens and roots of the battle are r
                  evealed. I just can’t tell you anymore without ruining the superb crescendo that ultimately climaxes in a Herbert classic, well there is one more thing……… ………..The jar! This part of the story sent my flesh crawling. A seemingly innocent jar full of what looks like twigs is left at Thom’s door, he brings it into the house and opens it,……………… If your not a lover of spiders this where you’d throw the book, I’ve never read anything like it and was paranoid for hours afterwards. So, what are you doing reading this op still ? Get out there and read this book, it’s James Herbert at his creative best. I’d recommend it to any one who can handle a writer of this calibre and quality. 10/10 from me ! :O) the disturbed one !

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                    02.07.2002 18:44
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                    James Herbert's latest book takes a side step away from his usual horror only genre and puts a foot into a quite different world. In ‘Once...’ Herbert explores the world of witches and fairies, goblins and demons but this is no children's fairy tale. The hero of the hour is on Thom Kindred, a master carpenter, who returns to his childhood home following a near death experience. At the Bracken Estate he is forced to examine all his beliefs about reality as creatures he thought the stuff of childhood stories assail him. Beauty abounds in the wood surrounding his home, in the form of fairy folk, but they are not the only ones who dwell here. As Thom learns about the creatures with whom we share our world, he learns that they are not all powers for good. He is attacked by a Wicca witch named Nell who wishes to harm him and get her hands on his inheritance along with his old ‘friend’ Hugo, who Thom discovers is really his uncle. Nell send a host of nasty surprises to Thom including a succubus and the nasty contents of a rather evil jar (arachnophobias beware). During all of this drama, Thom falls in love with an Undine (water sprite) called Jennet who helps him understand what is going on and his place in the grand scheme. This is an old story of good facing evil and the final, inevitable battle between the two in the last few scenes. In this it is a little predictable but does have some great language as Herbert draws the reader into the story. Because of the stories ‘fairytale’ style, the reader is jolted repeatedly by the sexual content and horror scenes and this helps to keep it fresh and to remind you that this is really an adult book. The plot can become a little predictable and the twists and turns fairly transparent from the start. However, I would still recommend this especially to Herbert fans but also to others, as this book has a great deal to offer even if it is not Herbert's fine
                    st hour.

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                      19.06.2002 16:48
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                      If you only ever read one James Herbert in your life, make it this one. I started reading James Herbert as a teenager and it is almost as though his writing has progressed through adulthood to maturity with me. "Once" is to his earlier writings such as "The Rats" as Jane Austen is to Mills and Boon. Once is described in the blurb as an adult fairytale and what an apt description that is. The main character, Thom Kindred is struck down at a young age with a stroke and he returns to his childhood home to convalesce. His home is a small residence in the grounds of a large manor type estate known as castle Bracken. Thom's home, Little Bracken is where he grew up until he was orphaned at the age of 10. We are introduced to Thom's great friend and the son of the owner of Castle Bracken, Hugo, an ageing manservant known to Thom as "Bones" and also to a young lady who is apparently looking after Hugo's father in the last throes of a terminal illness and who advises Thom that Hugo has requested she help look after him too. The young lady, Nell Quick by name, soon makes it clear to Thom that she is interested in doing more than just looking after him, but there is something disquieting about her. We find out later that she is a Wicca and a bad one to boot. As he looks around the grounds, re-acquainting himself with the area he knew as a child Thom starts to notice strange things, flickering lights and strange people. In time he comes to know that these are the faerie folk who live in the grounds and although they intend no harm, there are other forces at work, dark forces. Thom finds that the dark forces are trying to harm him and he is aided by the faeries in his attempts to counter them. Along the way Thom is faced with a number of revelations which shock him, although the majority of them are not that hard for the reader to guess. Although the denouement is fairly good, with the dark forces going all out to kill Thom, the
                      reason given seems somewhat banal in consequence, it does not spoil the book but I kind of wanted there to be a less ordinary reason for the evil. If you are looking for a blood and guts horror story this is not for you, however if you are looking for an enthralling page turner of the weird and creepy variety then Once is an excellent example of its kind. it has some erotic scenes in it but rather than appearing to have been put there just for the sake of it they are used to enhance out understanding of the characters concerned. Definitely a fairy tale with a twist but I so much prefer that to the "oooh yuk, gallons of gore" variety of horror story that is churned out so often by writers.

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                        03.06.2002 03:53
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                        James Herbert was once an old favourite of mine but for some reason I stopped reading him some years ago as his books just weren't frequent enough for me and sometimes a little hit & miss. Browsing through the local WHSmith last week, desperate for some new reading material, I decided to give Once a try; I'm glad I did. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~About the author.~~~~~~~~~~~ James Herbert is billed as the most successful British writer of horror in the country. His career spans over twenty years and twenty novels, (not all of them horror) including such treasures as 'The Fog', which was made into a film, 'The Rats', 'Fluke' (one of my personal favourites as it's such a charming tale) also made into a film and many more. His stories are always set in this country, usually in quaint-sounding English villages with quaint(ish) English characters. ~~~~~~~~~~~About the book.~~~~~~~~~~ Once was published in 2001 by Macmillan and retails at £6.99 for the paperback. I bought my copy for the bargain price of £3.99 at my local branch of WHSmith. The cover is black with a circular cut-out under which you can view the inside cover on which a rather nice illustration nestles. The quality is good and suggests a good old spooky read. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The story~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This is the tale of Thom Kindred, a crafter of wood whom following a near-fatal accident as a result of a stroke returns to Little Bracken, his childhood home, to recuperate. Little Bracken is a cottage on the large estate of Castle Bracken, where Thom's mother was governess to the privilaged son of the estate before her untimely suicide when Thom was ten years old. Sir Russell Bleeth is the owner of the estate and Thom's guardian following the death of his mother, Sir Russell is now dying and it is his son and Thom's old friend Hugo who welcomes Thom upon his arrival home. Thom soon a
                        rrives at the cottage and it is here that Thom's state of mind is made more apparent to the reader. He hasn't recovered fully from his recent stroke and lives in fear of another attack occuring, futhermore, he hasn't yet recovered from the death of his mother some seventeen years previously and as he enters the cottage is assaulted by memories of her. At best Thom is portrayed as a somewhat fragile individual whom is reasonably mentally unstable. Events unfold quite quickly from here; Thom takes a walk in the woods and is drawn to some strange singing lights which also wake him in the middle of the night. The next day he is visited by a blantantly seductive wench by the name of Nell who the reader would have to be daft not to immediately pick up on as the 'bad guy'. Then Thom visits the woods again and is drawn to the lights again only to discover that they are aiding a beautiful naked blonde in the act of pleasuring herself. (!) From here on in Thom meets all kinds of fairys, goblins, demons and more and the plot inevitably thickens. Thom falls in love with said strange blonde, who is a kind of grown up fairy, Nell casts various spells as she is really a witch dabbling in the dark arts of Wicca and Thom meets his goblin guardian whilst being chased around the house by some strange demon-type thing! I won't give away any more about the plot, and there is plenty more, I have just glossed over the surface here. For the interested in the erotic, I will say that there are quite a few erotic scenes peppered throughout the book for added spice! ~~~~~~~~~~~~Conclusion~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I enjoyed this book for what it was; an entertaining read. I found the plot to be quite predictable though and I found myself guessing the outcome of certain aspects of the plot a long time in advance of the events actually unfolding. I found the Nell character to be a little stereo-typed and the whole area of her inv
                        olvement with Wicca came across poorly through what I would imagine to be lack of research. That said, I have researched the subject myself, so perhaps someone with little or no knowledge of the subject may find it to be believable. The subject matter of the book is one that Mr Herbert went into in a different manner in his earlier book 'Fluke' and I quite enjoyed his latest take on the subject, though if I was the cynical type, I could say that it's the same idea with a different spin.......but why not? The whole fairies & goblins thing was entertaining and reasonably enchanting on a 'if only humans would open thier eyes' kind of a way and I would reccommend this book to anyone with a good imagination who is not looking for an especially literary read, but as a way of losing themselves for an hour or two. I hope this has been helpful to anyone thinking of purchasing the book, thanks very much for reading! (C) Kerry Downing 2002.

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                          02.01.2002 17:12
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                          Being a James Herbert fanatic, I had to put down my current reading material to start reading this new blockbuster book called Once.. What a mix eh? Going from Chicken soup for your soul which is an inspirational book full of short but heart tugging stories and putting it down to read a horror story. You think that's weird, my sister reads two or three books at once. Know wonder she's so confused!! Once.... by James Herbert was newly released horror novel in September '01. In fact I picked it up over the weekend as part of my Christmas present from my husband. Does any other wife buy her own pressies??? Umm perhaps its just a man thing. Anyway after paying 9.99 at Asda ( Retail hardback is 16.99) plus a nice 20 % discount as Tim works for them, I took it home, put kids to bed, ignored Tim and the PC and delved into the world of Faeries.. The story is held around a man called Thom ( short for Thomas I think and said that way too) Kindred and his childhood home, Castle Bracken. After being away for 16 years, Thom returns to the Bracken Estate after having a stoke to convalesce and recuperate. On returning to Castle Bracken, his old friend Hugo and his spooky manservant " Bones" were waiting to greet him. Thom stayed at Little Bracken which was a small cottage inside the huge grounds and this is were his childhood memories start to appear. Hugo was privately tutored by Bethan, Thom's mum and they used to live in Little Bracken, until 16 years ago when she died. Strange things start to happen after a few days after Thom goes back to his childhood home. Why did the mysterious Nell Quick want to seduce Thom? What's the connection with the fairy folk (faerefolkis) and the evildoers ? . A true horror done as an erotic fairy tale just for adult. Erotic? Not like Mr Herbert to be erotic, thought he was a horror writer? Well, yes James Herbert is one of the best Horror writer around in my opinion but Once..
                          . has something more. In all of James's books there is always some sort of sexual tension between one or two of the main characters. Usually keeping the tension strong but only including maybe one explicit scene to tempt the readers imagination. In Once... there must be at least 4 or 5 sexual scenes. Did I mind? Of course not. James is a very talented writer and none of these scenes were smutty or over done. Obviously he is just experimenting with his writing and that's fine by me. Another unusual thing that James has done and I don't think he's done it in any of this hard back books, is that he has included 4 colour plates. I have only a few of Herbert's books in hard back and I know on occasion he might include the odd sketch. He often puts a map of the place that he has based his book on in the front pages as this helps feel your way around the book itself. But I don't think he has ever included colour plates. Illustrated by Steve Stone, these colour plates are beautiful. So rich in colour and texture, it gives your imagination a leap into the book. The first one of a young lady hidden behind some bushes, naked but only a taster of flesh showing. The colours are soft, yielding and very well illustrated. You could almost be there. As you are reading the relevant part of the story, you turn over and see this picture and bang. ......you are not just a reader of the book. You are an onlooker, there in the trees. Soft wind on your face and you can smell the flowers in the air. The other colour plates, and I wont describe them because it would spoil the story are equally exquisite in their own right. As the mood of the book deepens so do the illustrations. The use of colour changes from soft, sultry to dark, hateful and it really sets your mind on fire. You know what they say about colours and the imagination. I felt that although the first illustration was relevant to the part that you were reading, the others didnt come
                          like that. Which I felt was a shame. They came after you had read the part, so I feel that they could be moved slightly. On the whole the illustrations are a good idea and certainly added plus to the book. James's writing is supassable. In all this books, he pays attention to incredible detail. Making everything in the book leap out at you in 3 dimensional writing. Unfortunately sometimes this can make the books, especially the first few chapters a little slow. If you like detail, then it wont bother you, but sometimes you feel like skipping a few pages. Don't. Part of reading a book, a good book is about not just being a reader, but seeing the situations within the book unfold, like you were in that persons life. Once.. is a little slow in the first few chapters but stick with it. The book is worth it. The story itself is a little predictable but it still didnt stop me from enjoying the book. There are some twists to Once.. but not as many as some of his earlier books. I really love the fact that all of his books are based on a place in England. Many of them down the beautiful west coast of England. This is an added bonus as most people have seen if not heard about the beauty of the west country, so you really visualize where you are. Funnily enough most of the places that Herbert's books are based on I have been and have some fond memories. I think all in all I was a little disappointed with Once.. Mainly because the horror within Once .. isn't about the gory stuff that he used to write about. In many ways this book reminds me of the Magic Cottage. The horror within both books are similar. The constant fight against good and evil, the balance of life and what happens when someone delves into something that they don't know anything about. Its more subtle but still has the impact of making you think. Perhaps this is the true horror. Horror of nature, of reality, of truth. If this is the way that James is going, it
                          s going to take a little getting used to but I think I will still like it. So if you like subtle horror about fairies, love, passion and belief, get this book and sit under the big toadstool in the garden. But remember, take the heater out there... .its cold!

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                          'Once' is a tale of magic and fairies, but with a terrifyingly dark twist.