[Book Review] The Kind Folk (Ramsey Campbell, 2012) ★★★☆☆

The Kind Folk conjures up old tales about the elusive fair folk. 

The Kind Folk is a supernatural horror novel about fairies, with an elusive atmosphere. The story has a great idea but doesn’t flesh out the characters or the story enough to make it an enthralling read. With the many dialogue and the hopscotch feel of the structure, jumping from scene to scene does make this story a bit detached. It does have an interesting perspective that is connected in a smart way with the plot and sets the main character on a journey of discovery about his heritage. 

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Luke Arnold is a comedian who imitates people but after he and his family have been on a tv show, his profession takes a strange turn. Because when his father Maurice accuses his brother Terence to be Luke’s real father, they come to an even more astounding revelation. His parents the Arnolds aren’t his birth parents at all. Maybe he was accidentally swapped in the hospital, but when Luke wants to find out more about his real parents, things take a sinister turn. 

After Terence dies from a heart attack, Luke finds out more about the secret he kept and why he told Luke the fantastical tales when he was young, which caused him to have nightmares about white figures invading his bedroom at night. But now he sees them again and now he’s wide awake and they haunt him. Luke has to find out where he comes from, because now that his girlfriend Sophie is pregnant the life of his unborn child might be at stake.

Why you should read it

The Kind Folk has a very unusual structure. It starts with the show on tv. We know nothing yet about the people who are talking to each other and why or what’s going on. It’s intriguing but it can also be a bit confusing because there’s nothing yet to anchor them to the story, or even have an idea where the story is going. Only much later you find out slowly about who they are, why they were on a shady talkshow and what the consequences are. And eventually it’s all about these consequences that set Luke on a path to discover his true heritage. 

While the idea and concept are intriguing, the investigation often feels tedious and repetitive. The fact that Luke is a comedian who can imitate everyone is an original take on the fairies and changelings, but not elaborated in an enthralling way, but it also feels repetitive. We follow him on more than one performance which can be forced. Both his investigations and performances that are also intertwined and connected, act out the same way almost every time, with the same things happening, but not getting Like anywhere. That feeling is a big element to the story, because it reflects Luke’s feelings, but the search for who he is feels sometimes too trivial while it should feel urgent and pressing. 

The character of Luke isn’t fleshed out, but that too is an important element to the plot. But that makes this story feel less involving. The hints of the folklore and the apparitions of these fairies are creepy enough but don’t feel as dire. When Luke gets lost in between worlds then it gets interesting, but ends too easily without feelings of distress, or consequences that lead him further to the truth. 

This novel therefore feels more like a concept that has to be more polished and elaborated. None of the characters are fleshed out nor does the story truly come to life or comes together in an enticing read. It also does feel like a screenplay due to the many dialogue that sometimes can feel confusing. You have to keep up with who is talking. The dialogue is often indirect and covers more pages than observations or descriptions that make the surroundings and thoughts come more to life. 

If you like Ramsey Campbell’s fairytale-like novels then this one can be entertaining and it also connects to other stories like The Darkest Part of the Woods and refers to Goodmanswood and thus creates a fairytale folklore universe. It’s an intriguing concept and it expands the folk universe of folk horror and nature horror. It’s an entertaining novel, that offers a different take. 

My favorite part

I had trouble getting into the story. It felt a bit detached and the many dialogues didn’t help to sculpt the story. But when the fairies came in, or better said when Luke got lost in the fairy realm or in-between, it was the most interesting part of the story. The tales that Terence used to tell Luke were interesting and I liked to have read them in full, adding more body to the overall story. Also I would have liked to read more about Terence’s discoveries and what they all meant, like the sculpted head of probably the Green Man. Now everything stayed too much on the surface not diving deep into folklore and keeping the fairies too elusive. I really like the idea of the story but it felt incomplete somehow.


Rating: ★★★☆☆

Thrill factor: ★★☆☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★☆☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★☆☆

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The Kind Folk is written by Ramsey Campbell and first published by PS Publishing in 2012. It consists of 220 pages. 

book cover The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell 2012

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