The Five Turns of the Wheel by Stephanie Ellis

Stalking the landscape of rural England are the sons of Hweol, Lord of Umbra. Creatures with a taste for blood and death, they lead the Dance—five nights of ritual, the Five Turns of the Wheel. Proclaiming these events as a celebration of Mother Nature, the grotesque mummers troupe of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler, visit five villages on successive nights to lead the rites as they have done for centuries.

In this blend of folk horror and dark fantasy, two women decide it is time to put a stop to the horrors committed in the name of the Mother. Liza and Megan, mother and daughter, fight back to protect the unborn and to weaken the power of Hweol. But will it be enough to destroy it forever?

The IndieMuse Review

Midsommar Meets Pan’s Labyrinth

Folk Horror appears to be having something of a renaissance, both in film and literature. Not since the sub-genres heyday of the 1970s have we been spoiled with such an abundance of new stories of rural terror. It is a favorite genre of mine. The themes of isolation and belief work so well in horror, creating tension by suggesting what hidden forces lie just behind the familiar and comfortable. Stephanie Ellis’ latest novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel presents a take I don’t often see in folk horror, by telling its story largely via the point of view of the supernatural threat itself.

Each year, five villages are visited by three mysterious figures; Tommy, Betty and Fidler, to lead them in a centuries-old ritual known as The Five Turns of the Wheel to appease Mother Nature and bring forth prosperity and abundance to the land.

These deathless creatures have grown increasingly cruel and, while the villagers are too afraid to break the seemingly endless cycle of violence and death, one mother and daughter have decided to take it upon themselves to break the cycle and put a stop to the creatures that have plagued them once and for all.

Stephanie Ellis is also known for her poetry and her experience in this form shines through in her writing. It is a beautifully written book, graceful and evocative, a tone which is incredibly well suited to the stories melding of Folk Horror and Dark Fantasy. You really get a sense of the beauty of the villages and the rural surroundings, but there is always a subtle but nagging undertone of malevolence and threat that permeates the whole thing.

While the building of tension is effective, this tension is broken by moments of shocking violence. Ellis doesn’t veer into extreme horror territory, nor does she shy away from showing the true price the characters are paying for their complicity with the supernatural forces at work. There are some memorable and inventive scenes which deliver on the horror in a big way.

While the horror vibe was incredibly effective, I did struggle to get on board with the fantasy elements in the early parts of the book. I enjoyed the different perspective that you get from having the story largely narrated by the creatures threatening the villages, and not always the villagers themselves. You are being told the story by a narrator with a full familiarity of what is happening and why and when it is not knowledge shared with the reader, it made it tough to follow in the early chapters. Once the story gets going, however, it is a lot of fun getting this viewpoint when the stakes are made clear, and the detachment with which events are viewed makes the story all the more chilling.

Effectively sinister and punctuated with shocking bouts of violence, The Five Turns of the Wheel offers a fresh new perspective on a beloved horror sub-genre, weaving a tale of rural ritual that you won’t soon forget.

RICHARD MARTIN

Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.

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