Book Review: Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Something wicked this way comes… She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps… Hollow Pike – where witchcraft never sleeps. (from

A book set in Northern England about witchcraft? Yes Please! was my response to this book. James Dawson’s debut novel was one of my highly anticipated books this season and it didn’t disappoint me.

Hollow Pike is like a book of two halves. The first introduces us to fifteen year old Lis, who has moved away from her mother in Wales to live with her older sister in Yorkshire to escape the bullies who have made her life a misery. But on the first day at her new school, Lis finds she’s attracted the attention of the local mean girls and ringleader Laura, Queen bitch extraordinaire. At first she’s welcomed into the fold, despite feeling uncomfortable with her new friends. But when she catches the eye of Danny, the boy Laura already has her sights set on, her school life is doomed. Now the butt of vicious rumours she turns to the gang of misfits, who besides Lis are the most hated kids in school.

So while there are whispers of witchcraft in this section, the focus is mainly on bullying. I don’t think I’ve ever sympathised with a character in a book as much as I had Lis. Having gone through the same situation (changing school for a new start, finding yourself the victim again, being the target of ridiculous and spiteful rumours) I fully related to her, from the unease she feels when the gang first take a friendly interest, to the despair at being the target yet again and wondering why me? Lis is a strong character though and doesn’t wallow too much in self pity or allow herself to become victimised. I really liked this about her and the positive message it sends out. Through the whole book I though James Dawson really grasped the essence of his characters, making them and the dynamic of the secondary school setting extremely believable.

Then the book takes a far more sinister turn and at this point  becomes unputdownable. It’s eerie, atmospheric and edge of your seat creepy and I loved it. Usually I’m pretty good at spotting a twist, but in Hollow Pike I didn’t have a clue. James Dawson leads readers on a merry dance where you don’t know who to trust as much as Lis herself, and suspicion bounces from one character to another right up until the very moment the villain is revealed. It’s clever, sophisticated storytelling and one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time.

Peppered with folklore, myth and witchcraft, this book blends together a mix of real teen issues, mystery and magic without ever feeling over the top or anything but real. There’s a lot of references to The Crucible, tying in the similarities between the witchcraft trials of old and the persecution that still occurs everyday, in every school or workplace, against people who dare to be different. I was looking forward to this book so much, yet still there was so much more to it than I was expecting. Highly recommended!

Published by Indigo (UK) February 2012
Copy received for review from the Amazon Vine program

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