This is the fourth book in the ‘Hell’s Underground’ series and it continues the story of Paul Rector’s struggle to prevent the ancient king Lud, imprisoned under the streets of London, from escaping and controlling the world with his demons. Lud is constrained by four gates which can only be broken by fire, storm, flood and blood respectively. One gate has already been breached and Witch Breed charts the destruction of a further two, paving the way for a grand finale in the next – and final – book.
This time-slip novel moves between the London of the mid-17th century and the present and, although the setting and characters have veracity the dialogue does not always ring true: on several occasions the modern colloquialisms of Paul’s speech jar. The story centres on Grace Fletcher, mother of Susanna and her ordeal when she is condemned as a witch. Both she and her daughter have supernatural powers but these are used for the good – to defeat Lud’s minions. Gibbons writes well about the suspicion and murderous hysteria generated in communities who live in a world which they do not fully understand.
The story whirls along, with a good deal of bloody combat and a constant stream of action, occasionally interspersed with Grace’s reflections on her imprisonment and Paul’s anguish at having to leave behind the woman he loves in order to walk the inevitably lonely path of the champion of goodness. Yet even his character is compromised – he must find a balance between the demon within whose strengths he needs in his fight and his humanity, which he is fearful of losing.
This is far from an action-driven gore-fest but there is repetition in the more bloodthirsty scenes and in the construct of the narrative which will appeal to an uncritical reader but which may disappoint those looking for a more thought-provoking debate about good and evil.