Book Review: Water Shall Refuse Them

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I scanned the synopsis for Water Shall Refuse Them, I knew I had to read the novel. Several themes attracted me immediately: the heatwave of 1976, the rural setting, and the folk horror of the British landscape. The unsettling tone in the first chapter quickly sealed the deal, and I was hooked.

Water Shall Refuse them is the tale of Nif, a teenage girl who moves with her family to rural Wales, where they attempt to stay for a month, recovering from the grief of losing a family member. The locals who live in the isolated village do not welcome these newcomers, and Nif forms an increasingly strange relationship with Mally, a teenage boy living in the next cottage with his mother, both of whom are also outsiders.

The novel’s shout line says “the threat of violence shimmers like a heat haze”, and I agree. The strong sense of place and folk horror motifs combine effectively to create a quiet but tense atmosphere from the first chapter to the last, and there is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

Unfortunately, there are scenes of animal cruelty in the novel, which almost made me stop reading, and these are the only reason I’m giving the book four stars instead of five. These grisly parts were too much for me, reminding me of similar scenes in The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, another book I almost abandoned for the same reason.

Despite this, I do still recommend Water Shall Refuse Them, even though it was an unpleasant read at times. I think this little gem could become a classic on the shelves for fans of British folk horror.

View all my reviews.

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