Once by James Herbert

(No Series)

For Thom Kindred, life is nothing spectacular. A stroke victim, Thom finds himself partially incapacitated and battling daily to regain control of his life. Moved by haunting dreams of his youth, he travels back to the wooded land where he grew up to recuperate. Surrounded by the comforts of Castle Bracken, Thom plans to relive old, forgotten memories.

But Thom's return has stirred an ancient evil at Castle Bracken, one cloaked in the guise of a friend. His only chance for survival lies in a world that he no longer believes in.

International bestselling author James Herbert opens the door into a place of wonder and terrible danger; where the unexpected becomes the norm, where the separation of dreams and nightmares is thin, and where "Once upon a time . . ." doesn't always lead to a happy ending.

Once is an adult fairy-tale fantasy with bizarre sexual scenarios, a nostalgic touch, and gothic feel. There’s a whole bunch going into this one. The front of the book has stunning artwork for several pages too, and the author clearly had fun breaking up the classic “Once upon a time” line between pages, instead starting chapter one with “death.” This is one of those books where you get the bigger impact reading the beginning in book form rather than electronic.

First page - Once
Second page - Upon
Third Page - A
Chapter one....death. 

The length is drawn out considering the storyline, which doesn’t hold enough scenes and action to justify page count. The writing style is beautifully done, complimenting the nostalgic and fantasy feel of the protagonist. I do wish less reflection had taken place, where a shorter length would have minimized the ‘dragging on’, spicing it up a bit.

Character wise, Thom is likeable with realistic dimensional, coming back home after a serious health setback. Hugo interested me because of his dysfunctional weaknesses and the villain turned out satisfyingly monstrous. I do wish more time had been spent about the grandfather. The elves and creatures in the forest were fantastical and intriguing, bringing the fairy tale element to life full force, and I liked the revelations Thom learned about himself and what the future holds for the land.

Sexual scenes are surreal and fit perfectly into the story, especially the erotic scene where he first encounters a main character. It shifts to another disturbing sequence that I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say that one ended up icky. There’s a few more sex scenes, including two characters you wouldn’t suspect, taking up nearly an entire chapter in length.

Overall the premise is good but there’s too much fluff to avoid getting bored sometimes. Characters are worthy of reading about, but you can only care so long in between something happening and characters ‘explaining things.’ The finale, with its flashy battle, worked. Pacing is too slow, but the atmosphere is rich and enshrouded with gothic fantasy. I expected more, perhaps some slimming down would have helped it, but it’s a decent book that stands out as unique.


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