With a bit more Luck, HIGHGATE will cast a spell on readers
Scoobert Mills' HIGHGATE is a wonderful concoction of magic, horror, love and comedy. The balance is just right and the lucky protagonist, Phineas Luck, benefits from the intriguing and macabre world that has revealed itself to him [Rating: 3.75 Stars].
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The plot surrounds Luck who is down and out and living homeless in London. He tried the traditional family, he tried God, and nothing seemed to work. Like many people in the UK, poor Luck slipped through the cracks and found himself homeless. It's a sad tale because it is one that rings true to reality before anything fantastic really begins. However, while waiting for a handout, Luck observes a supernatural conflict involving the wizened Denton who seems to be murdering ghostly shadows that escape Highgate Cemetery. The conflict leaves Luck in the hospital, for sticking his neck out to save the old man, and his reward when he wakes up is watching the old man fake Luck's death and sweep him away to the world of magic. Luck learns from Denton that he has been called to be a 'Custodian'; a future keeper of Highgate Cemetery and protector of the living and the dead.
First, Mr. Mills needs to be thoroughly complimented on the strength of the originality in this fantasy plot and his skill at building a darkly magical world in The Big Smoke. It is hard to not see this book as influenced by Harry Potter's world (which I say meant as a compliment), but not the mystical magic bubble of rural Hogwarts Castle; rather, the sinister and threatening world of Magical London where Harry Potter barely spends his time and barely survives. In this place, Luck stands out as someone who is a survivor of both the non-magical and magical worlds. Mills' concepts like the cemetery network of London, the role and powers of Custodians, the social hierarchy of ghosts, custodians, wizards, witches and demons has such a depth to them, I was putty in Mills' skilled hands-and I think any fan of fantasy will be too.
However, underneath my praise I do need to feedback that there are fundamental flaws to this story that detracts from the wonder of HIGHGATE. First, unfortunately I have to criticise the grammar, syntax, punctuation, word choice and layout of the novel. Sadly, Mills offends them all. Now, I am not a grammar Nazi. I have a rule when reading Inkitt novels: if the grammar mistake does not detract from the meaning of the sentence or significantly get in the way of my understanding of the story, then no harm-no foul. However, on numerous occasions this text has made mistakes that upset the flow. Toward the end, nary a sentence even gets a full stop to tell you the sentence is completed. There is a chapter out of sync from the upload (39, found in chapter 38). Sadly, they all add up and really let the wonderful story down. Now I get editing is not fun and tedious (I've been editing my novel for nearly eight years and I know if you look you will find one more mistake) but the situation with HIGHGATE is that really does come across as though the author didn't respect the work enough to see the novel through to completion. I hope that he does as it justifies editing to make the story shine.
My second criticism is less superficial than editing. On one hand, I love the supporting cast of this book to no end. They have depth, humour, unique strengths and weaknesses and many possible developmental outcomes if another book is written (I've since done more research and there are two more sequels available outside of the Inkitt library). However, the least believable character for me is the Protagonist, Luck. There are certain things about Luck that leave me unconvinced that his parts do come to a whole. For example, he has been homeless for a long time now. However, the psychology of homelessness is missed a bit when Luck is so easily convinced to live domestically in Highgate. Many homeless people take long periods of time or never fully go back to living in a home. I felt like Luck settled too quickly, too smoothly. For a horror, this part of the novel read more like Little Orphan Annie and could have been an chance to develop the character. Further, there are a plethora of severe mental illnesses associated with homelessness that Luck seems immune to. The streets made him tough but not sick? In any way? Homelessness for Luck comes across as extreme camping and the only scar on his identity are his unwashed dreadlocks and beard on his face. I think this is a missed opportunity to give Luck depth. This lack of an inner world further comes through when I know he aged to his mid-40s but speaks and carries on like a teenager. The references to his 'awkward boner[s]' feels more Bevis and Butthead than high fantasy, horror, gritty reality or well-executed comedy. I also wish to state I'm OK with crass and bawdy dialogue, I just felt this was too immature for a strong, world-weary middle-aged lead. Moreover, I was left even more confused when Luck reveals a vocabulary that I'm convinced he is not capable of. He uses the word 'conflagration' at one point which I feel is well beyond Luck's word bank. Phineas is not the sum of his very scattered parts and this has consequences for the plot. Because I am not convinced of Luck, I am neither convinced of his romantic relationship later on. I encourage Mr. Mills to think about Phineas further and who Luck is as a genuine person rather than an avatar with a character sheet of component characteristics that come together unnaturally. I would offer advice and say when the option presents itself for a choice between a vulgar joke/$10 word and character development, go for the latter.
With all that said, there are many, many redeeming things about HIGHGATE that made reaching the last page easy and the previous missteps not difficult to overlook. The mystery is genuine and did have me guessing throughout to the very end. The way Luck's powers are revealed to him are wondrous to both him and the reader. The comedy is often executed well and the effective cliffhanger details has guaranteed I will read the sequel no matter what.
At this stage, I sadly do not think that this novel will win Inkitt's contest in its current form. However, it has won my heart and I will be following Phineas to whatever dark corner of London he needs to visit next! I fully recommend others read this book, particularly those who are fans of the fantasy-horror-comedy triad.