The Crowfield Demon (Chicken House, middle grade, Feb. 2012 in the US--it came out in April 2011 in paperback in the UK, but I wanted the hardback). In a nutshell, this book is a nailbiting struggle of good vs. evil, verging on horror story, set in a vividly real medieval abbey with an endearing cast of characters (except of course the demon, who isn't).
I loved Pat Walsh's first book, The Crowfield Curse, a beautiful historical fantasy that throws an orphaned boy, William, into a dangerous mix of fay magic and angelic power. And so I looked forward with great forwardness to having the chance to return to the abbey where William is a servant, sharing his home with a friendly (and most endearing) hob, Brother Snail (a gentle monk), and Shadlok, the banished fey warrior whose is bound to him.
But, as the title suggests, things are not exactly going well in the abbey. In fact, it can't really be worse--a demon has awoken, hell-bent on destruction. Gradually its power grows, and the abbey begins to fall, the statues and paintings of the saints clawed and crumbled into shadows. And beneath the ruins William and the monks find the heart of the evil....and unwittingly free the demon.
And gee, it was hard reading for me! I am a weak reader, and the horror (not grotesque, blood in the face horror, but slowly inexorably growing Doom and Evil type horror making people I cared about lots and lots unhappy in an utterly terrified way) was almost too much for me. The suspense builds gradually but inexorably; the last thirty pages were a blur to me because I was reading very quickly indeed to make sure it would all work out. But because I did care, there was no way I could stop reading, and throughout the book there were small moments of light and humor and love between the characters that strengthened me.
Walsh fills her story with details, making both the mundane (the damp and nasty medieval March and the daily life of the abbey) and the extraordinary (the inexorably growing horror of the demon) brilliantly alive for the reader. It's the relationships between the characters, though, that I loved best--William, who lost his first family to a horrible fire, desperately needs the security of his second one, odd mix though it is, and the bonds of loyalty they have forged remain unbroken.
I hope there will be more about William and co.! The ending of this one shows a path toward a third book (and I saw some vauge rumors to that effect)...and in the meantime, Brother Snail has a blog....
Note regarding religion:
The mix of Christianity and the fey is both interesting and unusual. The demon is a fallen angel, and the good angel of the Crowfield Curse has a role to play in vanquishing it. The whole business with the demon seemed to me perfectly consistent with medieval Christianity (although the monks are not troubled with Lust, which, to the best of my knowledge, was a common demonic trick). Yet alongside this Christian part of the book is the wilder magic of the fey folk. It's part of the same creation, and not set in disrespectful opposition to Christianity, but it's clearly not standard doctrine!
Note regarding age:
It's middle grade--William is still a kid, and there's no teenage looking out and away from family. But it's scary. Almost nightmarish. A bit of scary can be good, sparking the imagination and making brilliantly clear pictures in the mind, but it might not be the right book for the sensitive reader.