something wicked“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.”

After the last book, this was the only thing that could sensibly follow it up. It’s not a book I owned and therefore had ready, but I happened to pass it in a bookshop while out with By The Pricking Of My Thumbs in my bag, and couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. Bradbury skipped ahead over all the other books waiting patiently on my shelf, but I’m sure few of them minded – Bradbury is, of course, a genius writer of the highest order.

In this absurdly creepy novel, we find two thirteen-year-old boys, Will Halloway – obedient and wary – and his best friend and neighbour, Jim Nightshade – brash and seeking adventure all the time. They are warned by a lightning-rod seller that a storm is coming to town, but instead of a storm, instead a circus arrives.

Cooger and Dark’s Pandenonium Shadow Show arrives one night to Green Town and Will and Jim are there to see the train pull in, with a calliope playing itself. In the darkness, the circus sets itself up and the following morning its rides and sideshows are full of people desperate to see what it has in store. But Jim gets too curious and after trespassing on a broken carousel, he and Will fall foul of Mr Cooger and Mr Dark themselves, who reveal the true power of the carousel, begin to promise them all they could ever dream of, and show themselves to be people who are very difficult to say no to.

Now caught up in a chase, Will and Jim must hide from Mr Dark and his assorted freaks, with only Will’s father Charles any the wiser that anything is going on. He begins to research the carnival, to protect the boys and find a way to rid Green Town of this malicious threat forever. That is, if the temptations of the circus don’t drag him in first.

Bradbury has always been creepy, but this is the first time I’ve read a book of his that is out-and-out horror. He is a master of scene setting and with just a few choice words, you find yourself tugged into the dark and windy streets of Green Town. You race with Will and Jim and your heart changes pace along with theirs. There feels like there is real magic woven between the words of this novel, as Bradbury shows us terrible, horrifying things and we blithely go along with them.

Charles, Will’s father, is a particularly amazing character, a man who feels too old to relate to his son, but who isn’t afraid to lie and decieve when necessary to save the lives of those he loves, even if it means putting his own in danger. This is a book of people pining for their innermost wishes, and what happens to the people who find those wishes granted. The freaks are a myriad of creepy characters, in particular the Dust Witch who has her eyes stitched up, but is still able to sense her surroundings with unexplained magic.

I actually liked the first half of the book better than the second, but that might be because the threat is more distant at that point, and less clear. As we learnt again from last week’s episode of Doctor Who, the remarkable “Listen”, nothing is scarier than something. In fact, I’ll leave you with the words of Charles Halloway himself.

“…[T]he carnival wisely knows we’re more afraid of Nothing than we are of Something. You can fight Something. But … Nothing? Where do you hit it? Has it a heart, soul, butt-behind, brain? No, no. So the carnival just shakes a great croupier’s cupful of Nothing at us, and reaps us as we tumble back head-over-heels in fright.”