The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell

the-kind-folkBack in the old days when there was still magic in the world, the fairy folk used to improve their diminishing bloodline by exchanging their offspring with human children. In The Kind Folk (2012), the fairies are corrupt shadows of their mythological selves, but the practice of changelings continues.

When a DNA test shows his biological parents aren’t somehow his, Luke is understandably mystified. Luke’s uncle, Terry, who was strangely attached to Luke, may know something, but dies before divulging any facts. However, in Terry’s house Luke discovers a semi-incoherent diary tracking the uncle’s travels throughout Britain, as well as a carving of a strange, barely human face.

Suddenly Luke, an up-and-coming comedian known for his skilful mimicry, starts to get gigs around Britain, in places that happen to correspond with the diary. And soon there are strange folk appearing at his shows, always standing in the back, twisting their hands in unnatural positions, as if signalling some secret sign. They seem to want something, and as it happens, Luke’s girlfriend Sophie is pregnant.

The Kind Folk is Campbell at his very best; it’s built on a solid mythological foundation that’s familiar enough to feel real. The silent, elongated shadows are classic Campbell, creatures that always appear in the distance, half-glimpsed, so that they could be just ordinary youths loitering around – at least until they scurry away on all four limbs or some other craziness.

There’s also the humour, as usual, striking a perfect balance with the horror; almost every sentence feels like a wound-up jack-in-the-box, ready to be sprung on the reader with a twist that might turn everything that came before it on its head. The relatively short length of the novel is just right; the narrative is rich, but nothing is overextended. Every chapter is in its right place.

And as Luke’s journey progresses, the atmosphere goes up a notch or two. The dark city streets, the ruins of abandoned houses, the lonely places of the world where something old still lingers – the night is deep and dark and full of scares, but there’s also a lot of beauty in these shadowy, almost wistful passages.

The novel ends with a perfect note of awe and wonder, as another generation steps forward. The fairies might’ve retreated back into the shadows, but with books like The Kind Folk, there’s still plenty of magic left in the world.

***** (5/5)

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