Review, The Hiding brings terror and magic to North England.

A secret witch and Demon Hunter named Harper must solve a series of supernatural slayings without revealing her identity.

This review contains no plot spoilers. An early copy of the book was provided for free.

I have a confession. A conflict of interest. I love the city of York. Members of my extended family live in nearby Filey. The city has what a travel book would describe as "character" around every corner.

That's how Lyons sold me on The Hiding. A haunted fantasy set in an oh-so-old city. For anyone who knows York, Lyons delivers. She places Harper firmly on cobblestone streets. She recasts the city's "charming character" with an alternate reality of not-so-old old world terror. The Shambles, where the book opens, is the perfect location for haunted tour guides and vigilant watchmen. If you already know it.


The Shambles, Wikipedia

Any international reader be lost as Lyons relies on a presumed knowledge of the English city. Without that The Hiding's geography is difficult to parse. Perhaps, for a British reader, over explaining the re-imagined city would ruin Lyons's carefully constructed world building. Anyone else will be lost, like a tourist in real life York.

That world building is The Hiding's best magic. Lyons reveals her alternate present slowly, letting the reader parse out its history and politics from characters. Never slowing the book down for the tedious exposition that weighs down many fantasy projects. The pace, method, and tone of The Hiding evoke Pullman's Dark Materials saga. Here is a Britain, at once filled with horror and the mundane. The streets where they once executed witches are a historical landmark which a man dressed as a ghost will gladly tour you around for only a few pounds. Stay out of the dark where evil lurks, on the way back to your cars.

After an eternal minute or so, a voice came over an invisible speaker. A tear trickled down her cheek. The voice was feminine, but unremarkable.
“Psalm 23 verse 4.”
An easy start and a timely reminder.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” she quoted.
“Proceed in the name of the Trinity,” the voice intoned. Harper took three steps forward then stopped to await the next instruction.

At its best The Hiding pulls me in. During one sequence, Harper undergoes an examination of her faith to gain entry to a church library. Lyons weaves a world that creates and answers just enough of my questions to leave me with a thousand more.

Without its magic, the book slows. Lyons's prose isn't bad, but it is overwritten. Each page feels about thirty-percent too long. Descriptions and internal monologues drag past the point at which the reader can intuit their meaning. Dialogue isn't snappy enough for my taste.

Harper turned away to study the window of the shop opposite. She rolled her shoulders, resisting the urge to check the reflection and see if he still watched her. Tourists and shoppers scurried around her. The old glass warped their reflections, lengthened faces, rippled bodies, as though Harper observed them through water. The crowd hurried past the two men and didn’t slow until they were under the twisted eaves of the Shambles shops.

In her descriptions of location and action, Lyons's prose can drag. The city she envisions slips away from comprehension as she weights the book towards examination rather than evocation. Her magic and world are sharp. Exact demonstrations of restraint and precision. Meanwhile, Lyons' streets sag under the weight of their descriptions. It unbalances the book, lingering too long on the city I know, dragging me away from the city I want to imagine.

Which is a shame. In its plotting, The Hiding succeeds. Paced faster than a traditional fantasy novel, slower than a thriller, it isn't afraid to deliver short and punchy chapters. As Harper struggles to help people in need, avoid discovery, and manage an increasingly complex personal life, Lyons juggles each subplot to satisfying resolution.


The Hiding, Alethea Lyons (2024)

The Hiding builds a fresh and exciting world, particularly suited for those with knowledge of York. Lyons weaves exciting magic with strong plotting, but stumbles occasionally in prose and dialogue.

Publishing March 5th on:

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#Alethea Lyons #Fantasy #Horror #Magic #Queer #Review #Small Press #The Hiding #Urban Fantasy