Mortlock may have a young audience in mind, but through its pages we have no rainbows, friendly dragons or smiles and laughter; instead John Mayhew’s debut novel presents us with a rampage of funeral parlours, death and demonic crows with a tendency to eat out your stomach. As morbid as it may be, Mortlock is a thrilling adventure from start to finish.
Following a 13-year-old knife-throwing orphan and her long-lost twin – an undertaker’s assistant with a gift that enables him to bring alive the dead – the story sets this pair on a path to destroy a cursed flower that gives the bearer an immense amount of power. Their unintentional entanglement in this quest sees them running for their lives as the crow-like demon Ghuls chase them down, leading to grave and bloody events.
While the plot is far from original or surprising in its twists and turns, the reveals do come at just the right times, keeping you interested and eager to find out more. Shockingly, the book doesn’t shy away from its more gruesome moments, with the blood and gore never fully downsized for its youthful readers. It’s never laboured, but the sheer frightfulness of the events occurring, and even deaths of main players, are front and centre.
In the two leading protagonists we have likeable characters and a relationship that grows realistically. The usual collection of supporting roles are all intriguing in their own right, while the sense of time and place is created superbly, with its 19th Century London setting highlighting its Gothic leanings.
Unfortunately, though, the writing feels a bit forced in places, and it often lacks the high sense of emotion that such disturbing events warrant (perhaps trying to protect its target audience here). Overall, Mortlock is a gruesomely grim debut novel that just sadly lacks a bit of spark.