Born to the Dark by Ramsey Campbell: John C Adams Reviews

Author: Ramsey Campbell

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

Format: ebook, print

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: 2021

Star Rating: 4/5


Ramsey Campbell is one of Britain’s most established voices, if not the most established, among living horror writers. His presence is particularly strong in weird fiction.


He has over half a century of writing behind him and is the author of over thirty novels plus hundreds of items of short fiction.


Born to the Dark is the second book in the 'Three Births of Daoloth' trilogy, the first being The Searching Dead. The final book is The Way of the Worm.


The action takes place in 1985, thirty years after the first book. Dominic Sheldrake is a married academic who specialises in film studies.


His childhood brother Bobby and Jim have moved away, but Dominic still lives in Liverpool where they grew up.


Dominic and his wife are at their wits’ end about finding effective treatment for their son Toby who suffers from severe seizures when he sleeps.


Every night they are terrified about what putting Toby to bed will mean. Will he sleep? If he does, will he wake safely the next morning?


The strain is taking its toll on their marriage and on their careers. We are particularly aware of this through Dominic’s eyes because he is the point-of-view character throughout.


Dominic’s wife Lesley finds an experimental treatment that may help Toby. However, Dominic is horrified to discover that the woman leading the facility is Tina Noble, the daughter of his old adversary from the first book Christian Noble.


Much of Born to the Dark is a struggle between competing visions from two parents about what is best for their young son. I had so much sympathy for them both.


Each saw events through their own lens: Lesley embraced treatment that worked, Dominic perceived that treatment as being dangerous because of the involvement of the Nobles.


The choice of first-person narrative, with Dominic telling the entire story, naturally encouraged us to accept his perceptions as being closer to the truth. This was supported by the past events in The Searching Dead.


In many ways, Born to the Dark was a classic tale of one person’s accurate assessment of a serious threat versus everyone else playing catch up. For the reader, this was never in doubt.


What was fascinating was how this alienation placed Dominic under strain and how much this stress drove the narrative.


I enjoyed Born to the Dark very much. It worked effectively as a standalone narrative so it isn’t necessary to have read The Searching Dead already.


Born to the Dark explored the circumstances in which taking account of others’ opinions is necessary and pitted these against a situation where failing to persuade other’s that you are right is extremely dangerous.


Dominic’s career as a film-studies lecturer was central to this theme. He is constantly embracing the opinions of his students during discussions, and a variety of thoughts on any topic are profoundly welcome and indeed essential to the debate.


This is contrasted with the threat posed by Christian Noble and his daughter, where there can be no valid equivalence of diverging opinions. The pair are simply a danger to Toby and to the other children at their facility.


I liked Dominic and Lesley very much. I sympathised greatly with the strain of their situation and saw both their points of view throughout in terms of how they decided to treat their son.


Dominic’s story is a highly improbable one most people would treat with a healthy degree of scepticism. Although Lesley was ultimately proven wrong about the Nobles it was always reasonable of her to sift and weigh the evidence Dominic presented to her.


Born to the Dark was a great story that I enjoyed very much. It was expertly crafted to be both a natural progression from the first book but also entirely enjoyable even if you hadn’t read The Searching Dead.


Thank you for reading my review of Born to the Dark by Ramsey Campbell.


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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my article about family in the horror fiction of John Wyndham (They May Not Mean To).


Or you might like to take a look at my article about Christmas in Horror Fiction (Ho Ho Ho).


If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene.



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