[Book Review] The Wise Friend (Ramsey Campbell, 2020) ★★★★★

book cover The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell 2020

The Wise Friend is an atmospheric slow burner with harrowing folkloric horror.

The Wise Friend is a supernatural folkloric horror that reminds of a dark fairytale. With roots in folklore and fairytales this tale is far more elusive and taps into a new atmospheric horror that Ramsey Campbell is particularly well-mastered in. He knows exactly how to build a strong sense of foreboding atmosphere, based on folklore and nature. It very much reminds of his previous The Darkest Part of the Woods, and even refers to Goodmanswood.

The eerie sense of nature is described in a great ominous way and turns natural and normal things into something terrifying. The Wise Friend is a dark fairytale for adults who still haven’t lost their sense of wonderment and imagination.


Patrick Semple’s artistic aunt Thelma Turnbill recently died and after the funeral Patrick takes home with him her journal. In this journal he finds some strange entrees about sites and places she visited for inspiration, with mysterious quotations. And at one of those sites she died a mysterious death. 

She was a successful artist and her paintings are shown in a gallery. He takes his son Roy with him to look at them again, and both become fascinated with the entries and they even start to question her sudden and strange death. 

When at the gallery Roy meets a girl named Bella, she seems to know an awful lot about Thelma’s work and offers to help with their search. Slowly this search turns into something sinister and far more occult than Patrick could have ever imagined and now he has to save his family before they all suffer the same fate as Thelma.

Why you should read it

The Wise Friend is a book with an acquired taste. It’s a slow burner with a particular choice of words and an indirect style of dialogue. The use of language can feel a bit archaic, but that excellently suits the plot and storyline. You sometimes have to make an effort to take in the words and sentences, but this is very rewarding. It’s a story that reels you in slowly and when it got you hooked it is relentless and will not let go that easily, just like the entity in the story itself. 

Although the story starts out as mysterious and elusive, it unravels as a true horror story that creeps up on you and subtly slithers in some horrifying scenes. The characters are secondary to the plot, but well-developed nonetheless. Their characters speak through their interactions with each other, and conversations and it shows a highly dysfunctional way of dealing with problems and each other. This makes the characters more interesting and the occult problem more difficult to deal with. 

The descriptions of nature, the detailed observations of ordinary things turning into something eerie or sinister is what makes this book special, especially to those who love folkloric and nature horror. It can even feel poetic, but it certainly is mesmerizing. The writing style is very rich, detailed but subtle and focuses on atmosphere to scare. It’s written from Patrick’s point of view and told in the first person to create a more intimate feel of the story. His memories take us back with flashbacks to his childhood when he stayed at his aunt’s house which sheds more light on his relationship with her and on who she was.

While the mystery unfolds it becomes clear what really has happened to Thelma and what is happening now. Although the mythology behind it stays elusive all the same. But it’s very intriguing and calls for more exploration into this folkloric mythos. The combination of folklore, fairytales, the occult, old books, spells and summons results in an enthralling story. It feels ethereal and very dark and earthly at the same time. It’s a modern horror story, but it also feels like reading the crumbling pages of a forbidden text, while visiting old magical forbidden places. The mystical world of The Wise Friend is very tangible and creates a unique atmosphere written with an authentic voice. 

Slowly the reader is sucked into the nightmare Patrick is living from which is no escape. The ending can feel at bit underwhelming, but it also can be a start of a very terrifying mythos that can be connected with The Darkest Part of the Woods

My favorite part

I really do like all the stuff that has something to do with elusive occult stuffy books that are written by unknown occultists or sorcerers. It applies to nature as a spiritual magical art and summons the old ones from the earth and the sky. It really speaks to me in a mesmerizing way, maybe because I have a wondrous awe for nature, while nature itself is a little wonder and can hide scary and beautiful things from us, with which we can let our imagination run wild. It’s a dark fairytale for adults and the scenes describing the eeriness of nature are my favorite. But the conversations are intent to make you feel awkward and they are dysfunctional at best. I really do like this disturbing style in communication and relationships, which I think is more accurate than straightforward conversations. It’s an acquired style that I love and greatly enjoy. 

A favorite quote

‘The sunlit greenery everywhere around us was so intensely present that I could smell and virtually taste it, leaving little room for thought. My aunt had never said how you would know if the world had been turned inside out, but the notion made the trees at the edge of my vision feel illusory, close to abandoning their substance to exhibit some kind of reversal, a hollowness eager to take on more life.’


Rating: ★★★★★

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★☆☆

Surreal factor: ★★★☆☆

Read more about books by Ramsey Campbell:


The Wise Friend is written by Ramsey Campbell and first published by Flame Tree Press in 2020. It consists of 288 pages. 

book cover The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell 2020

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