As the Wheel turns…
My first experience with dark fiction was the gruesome fairytales my grandmother read to me, those original horrors born hundreds of years earlier that acted as morality tales to keep children in line. As an adult, I’ve encountered similar themes in some modern horror novels, but few are capable of pulling off that same dreamy atmosphere and pervasive sense of dread.
Not this one. With The Five Turns of the Wheel, Stephanie Ellis drops us into a living nightmare, dreamy because of the strange nature of the antagonists but terrifying as we recognize our own world and its inhabitants trapped in the center. Buckle in, this ride is a doozy!
Everything you need to know about the story occurs in a poem at the beginning, a chilling piece that immediately sets off warning bells. For myself, as a huge fan of folk horror, it immediately reeled me in. We find ourselves in the Weald, a series of villages prepping for an annual ritual, the Five Turns of the Wheel. And the master of ceremonies? Only some of the most riveting yet mysterious characters I’ve read, Tommy and his brothers, Fiddler and Betty. They breeze into town, eager and ready, hinting at their dark plans which fascinated me, as an eavesdropping reader, but had me looking over my shoulder in case the characters heard me. Seriously, they are vivid!
If I had one tiny complaint, it would be that the Weald’s inhabitants paled a bit in comparison, at least at first. Liza definitely becomes a favorite, a woman known as a Wheelborn who has suffered dreadfully at the hands of Tommy and his father/lord, Hweol. She’s so conflicted and morally gray, even during her PoV sections one is unsure how she’ll ultimately act — which I love. And some of her sections… wow. She really drives home the full weight of what women often sacrifice for others.
This is the ultimate in folk horror, a bit reminiscent of The Wicker Man but it goes so much deeper and darker. The rituals themselves are brutal, enough that I was biting my nails. And following Tommy through so much of the story…I can’t recall the last time an antagonist fascinated me so. I never rooted for them, but damn if I wasn’t thoroughly invested in what would happen. If there are other stories set in this universe, sign me up! I’m officially a Stephanie Ellis superfan, and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store!