There’s a dark force lurking beneath the surface of Sarum Vale. When a young girl is found pregnant and bleeding in the woods, it is the beginning of a series of dark events which will force teenager Jamie Harper to make some difficult choices in order to protect himself and the people he loves.
The Unnamed is a dark and twisting tale by Holly Campbell, exploring the dark forces of the supernatural alongside some purely human evil, through the lens of a teenager just trying to keep his head above water. I think the story had some great concepts and a lot of potential, but I did feel like the book as a whole didn’t hang together quite as well as it could have. I’ll look at why I thought that might have been in a moment, first I want to talk about the things I enjoyed.
The characters have some lovely relationships with each other; I was a huge fan of Jamie’s bond with his little sister Callie, I thought the way his parents reacted to his escalating issues was endearing and I enjoyed the portrayal of Jamie’s growing friendship with the mysterious girl who appears in Sarum Vale.
The story was atmospheric and the horror elements of the story were well done; the author created effectively unsettling scenes and some truly terrifying moments over the course of the story, to the point where I had to take a break at times. I’m not great with blood.
There was some really interesting blending of supernatural horror with real-world cruelty, and I think there was the potential for some interesting exploration around that. There is a sense of the long-term effects of different kinds of trauma at play in the story and its characters, and the way in which an encounter with one type of malign force leaves the young people in the story more vulnerable to attacks from the other, but I didn’t feel like that idea was taken anywhere within the story and I do feel like that was a missed opportunity.
I also think the waters there were muddied by having more than one supernatural evil at play, or at least I think there was. It was difficult at times to understand the differences between the sinister forces at play—at various times, Jamie experienced different offers of help in exchange for mysterious terms, and I was never totally sure what degree of bad it would be for him to accept. It contributed some to the general sense of unease around the plot, but it also definitely diminished the emotional stakes of the decisions Jamie was forced to make at various points along the storyline.
In addition, I felt that the story was held back somewhat by a lack of clear focus or direction. Around the midpoint of the book there were some developments in the characters’ understanding of the forces surrounding them, but ultimately it didn’t lead anywhere. I never really felt like the characters had a plan for escaping the danger they were in, and they never seemed to set about trying to formulate one.
When I’m writing reviews I typically try to avoid commenting on mistakes in the writing, mostly because I don’t think it’s a particularly interesting element, but I’m going to bring it up here because I think it’s part of a bigger picture. This book had a strong core and some fascinating characters, but I felt it was held back by a few issues which closer editing might have addressed. There was a lot of head-hopping, which I know not all authors consider to be a mistake as such but which I think weakened some of the scenes where the tension could have been more effectively built from a single point of view. There was an excessive amount of book time dedicated to scene-setting, and the author’s writing was more than atmospheric enough to have immersed us in the world of the story without needing to spend that long building a sense of where we were and the characters we were working with. And there were a lot of mistakes in word choice, spelling or grammar which did pull me out of the plot as I was reading.
There is strong horror work going on in The Unnamed, and there are some very compelling characters who interact in interesting ways. There’s a lot to recommend the book, even considering the elements of it that I felt could do with polishing. The book involves some exploration of child abuse which is worth being aware of before going in if that could be triggering. If you’re a fan of scary supernatural mystery, there’s plenty to enjoy in The Unnamed.
If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, you can find it on Amazon!