Halloween is creeping closer, and it’s a good opportunity to roll out a few reviews of books I read over the last few months.
Like, for instance, William Meikle’s The Watchers trilogy.
Meikle is one of the most reliable authors in the supernatural horror/thriller genre, with a side of sword & sorcery, and one of the first writers I started reading when I got my Kindle reader.
William Meikle got some absolutely undeserved bad press last year, when a noted critic singled him out during a rant review of an anthology. It was unfair, wrong-headed and inelegant, but that’s critics for you, I guess.
For this writer, William Meikle is good.
Case in point, The Watchers, a work that dos not only underscore the skills and imagination of the author, but represent a perfect read for those who are tired of a certain type of horror and want to try something different.
The Watchers is the collective title of a trilogy of vampiric-themed novels, composed of The Coming of the King, The Battle for the Throne and Culloden, mixing swashbuckling adventure with an unusual pseudo-historic setting.
Playing with English and Scottish history, Meikle imagines an alternate timeline in which, after executing vampire Charles I Stewart, Oliver Cromwell managed to repel the hordes of the undead north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Over a century later, the return of the Boy King Charles II triggers a new invasion: the armies of vampires are preparing to overcome the Wall and plunge England into a bloodbath, and a few mismatched characters are on the front line in this war for the survival of humanity. The reader follos these privileged observers, sharing their misadventures and their final destiny.
With a style that at times reminded me of the late James Herbert for impetuousness and dynamism, Meikle tackles the history of the Border between England and Scotland, references Stevenson and Stoker, and calls upon a wide catalog of fictional and cinematic imagery – from the Hammer movies to Rob Roy, to Zulu.
Meanwhile, as Brian Stableford did before him with The Empire of Fear, Meikle rewrites the vampire myth turning it into a global threat, and offers quick glimpses of a world in which the plague of bloodsuckers – including gnostic suggestions, templars and other wonders – left a deep mark. And if Stableford was more decidedly “sci-fi” in his rationalization of vampirism, Meikle remains closer to the roots of myth, representing the vampire as an expression of Evil.
The Watchers trilogy is an almost perfect balance between the 80s-style horror blockbuster, ideal for the beach, and a more thoughtful horror, which hooks the reader as a puzzle whose pieces fall one by one in their place.
The trilogy was recently reissued by Gryphonwood Press, and both omnibus version and three separate volumes are available.
Maybe some critic will not like it, but who cares? Readers of horror, sword & sorcery and supernatural, as well as lovers of a good yarn, should cherish it.
And as a side note, as a roleplaying games player, I want the Watchers’ universe as a setting. Like, now.