Three books in and I’m ready to say, with some confidence, that Polygon’s Darkland Tales is my all-time favourite series of linked novellas. Handpicking some of Sotland’s finest novelists to reimagine major episodes in the country’s history is an inspired concept, but it’s the perfect execution that really lifts it to the literary heavens. Following from Denise Mina’s Rizzio and Jenni Fagan’s Hex, we now get this gem from Alan Warner, a darkly humorous and wistful take on Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after his humiliating defeat in the Battle of Culloden.
Those familiar with Warner will instantly recognise the dense doughiness of his prose; reading Nothing Left to Fear From Hell brings to mind parsing classics of old, including the need to navigate some verbally swampy terrain. In the context of the story if works well. Charlie must reconcile the haughtiness of his entitlement with the reality of his failure. That he is forced into situations that rub salt into his wounds makes for some uncomfortable but well orchestrated laughs. Especially given that he still manages to treat perceived underlings like crap. Warner’s is the most difficult of the Darkland Tales thus far, but a welcome and exciting addition nonetheless.
Nothing Left to Fear From Hell by Alan Warner
Polygon Books, 2023
“Charlie must reconcile the haughtiness of his entitlement with the reality of his failure”. This perfectly captures his character Bram.