Review by Frank Plowright
In his introduction, writer T.C. Eglington talks about his love of the woods in the Scottish countryside, and the stories learned there as a child prompting the first Thistlebone outing.
It was every bit as disturbing as intended, but self-contained, and not necessarily requiring a sequel. Yet on the other hand, it was good enough to have faith in Eglington and Simon Davis ensuring Poisoned Roots matches their first glimpse of Harrowvale.
As before, both writer and artist supply small touchstones to other horror stories, the hooded red coat seen in early scenes an obvious example, and they again rapidly suck readers into a scenario where there may be connections between sinister events. Do these add up to a bigger picture connecting to an ancient evil, or to the Thistlebone cult of twenty years previously? The horror seen by journalist Seena Chaudry in the opening volume has taken its toll, yet she’s contracted to finish a book, and a year afterwards digs back in just as a large tree blows over during a gale in Harrowvale, revealing several skeletons and artefacts beneath.
One big difference this time is Davis showcasing his artistic versatility, as seen on the sample art. He switches between his usual polished illustrative work to cartooning for a sequence involving a scout troop. It may seem to draw away from the overall mood of horror, but eventually digs deep into it as a means of explaining a supporting character seen in the previous story. That introduces a new horror, one distressingly common to news pages, yet here hinted at rather than explicitly shown.
Superficially, the pattern is much the same as before. Is there actually an ancient evil possessing people and demanding atrocities from them, or have disturbed people convinced themselves of it? Eglington and Davis know well enough not to destroy their mood with any definitive answers, so Thistlebone becomes a story about people’s response to mysteries. That is until the twists arrive, one of them especially fatal.
Because it retreads much the same ground this lacks the pure shock of the new, but it’s certainly no makeweight sequel. In fact it can be read without reference to the first book, and may be better for that.