The Occultists: Polly Shattel

Where do I start with this one?

I seem to have made it a recent life’s work to read and review debut novels – there’s certainly been lot of them. And they usually don’t take very long to get through. But “The Occultists” is very different; it’s epic, literary, researched to hell and demands to be savoured.

We’re told its Shattel’s first novel. That may be so but it aint her first rodeo. Her background in film is obvious. Cinematic landscapes form from scintillating depictions – she seems to be able to summon just the right image; characters are brought to life not just in their descriptions but in what they say and how they say it. I love the way we’re given ongoing tutelage in how they speak. It’s as if the author wants us to know – really KNOW – her characters and settings (as if one truly speaks to the other). This seems to come from a familiarity – and love, perhaps – so deep, it’s my impression that some or all of these places have, at some time, been her home.

Max is the young protagonist, ingenue, hapless hero. Spotted as a potental occultist savant, he becomes groomed by the seemingly well-meaning local postmaster, but we soon come to realise that from the moment Max meets him, his life was never going to be truly his own.

Which does have issues for the reader…

For much of the time Max is reactive: in Selleford, the very loooooong stay in Steppeland, followed by another period of assimilation in New York. (Why can I not get the structure of ‘Tess of the D’Urbeville’s’ out of my mind, lol!?) A reader might flag were it not for the monsters. The Moorlander (ouch!), Tom Howland, Mr. Splitfoot (there’s gotta be another book, right?), the sisters. Oh, and Max’s tamkarra…

…that allows him to access the Akasha

…from which appears the most astonishing description of an abstract landscape I have ever read. The ending is simply superlative (not the last chapter where the ends are tied up) but in everything that led up to THAT KISS.

Enough! Just buy it. But not if you’re looking for a quick read, or an easy read. The scope is too vast and the writing too brilliant.


For Edwardian-era spiritualists and illusionists, silence is more than a strategy; it’s a way of life. And when Max Grahame, a bullied, small-town teen, discovers a secretive world of occultism and séances right under his nose, he can hardly contain his excitement.

But as Max begins his conjurer’s lessons in earnest, his newfound knowledge exposes the group’s dark and deeply sinister designs, leading a game of supernatural cat and mouse that takes him from the ancient hills of rural Georgia and the mystic plains of the Midwest to fin-de-siècle Manhattan…and beyond.

Impeccably researched and wildly imaginative, The Occultists is a darkly riveting historical fantasy in which magic is terrifying, and annihilation is closer than Max could ever imagine.

The link in the pic is for Amazon UK. Click here for Amazon US.

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