Title: Once

Author: James Herbert

Type: Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 474

Rating: 3.5/5

I’ve never really been one for fairy tales, and so I was a little hesitant to get stuck into this one once I realised that it was basically a grim parody of the genre. Luckily, James Herbert isn’t exactly known for being soft and cuddly.

Sure, the story behind this one does owe a lot to the classic fairy tale, but it’s got a much darker spin on it that makes it worth reading even if you’re like me and you’re not much of a fan of the more traditional stuff. In fact, you can pretty much ignore the fairy tale parallels if you want to because that’s just the gimmick that sits beneath the surface, like when Agatha Christie used nursery rhymes.

I do think that it means that it won’t be to everyone’s cup of tea, but the good news is that there’s also plenty of the James Herbert hallmarks that I’ve come to know and love. A disappointing lack of blood and gore perhaps, but there’s some stellar plot work and great characterisation to make up for that.

The problem that I’m facing as a reviewer is that I don’t have much more to add. It’s just an okay read, and definitely one that’s mid-tier when compared to Herbert’s other work. I don’t think it’s going to be the kind of book that I come back to again, especially when the alternative is to revisit The Rats or The Fog.

I always say that even a relatively bad James Herbert book is pretty good by most other authors’ standards, and this is true here. I just feel as though he didn’t have too much to say here, and it seems as though he started with a mediocre idea and tried to polish it. He managed to get it nice and shiny, but not as shiny as if he’d started with a better concept.

I enjoyed a few of the themes here though, including the fact that it looked at the finality of death and what it means to be diagnosed with a terminal illness. But then it kind of also diluted that due to the inclusion of the fairy tale elements.

So as you can probably guess from my review, I’m really not sure what to make of this one, and there’s no simple answer when it comes to the question of whether I actually liked it or not. It’s easier to say whether I’d recommend it, and even that isn’t necessarily simple. It really depends upon how you’ve got on with James Herbert in the past and whether you like stuff with a fairy tale vibe.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve got for you today. Go ahead and make of that what you will.

Learn more about Once.