If John Bunyan had dropped acid while writing The Pilgrim’s Progress (or perhaps Dante writing The Inferno), then the result would likely have resembled this book. With a dash of John Myers Myers’ Silverlock thrown in and an echo of The Wizard of Oz in the final chapter.
The setting is in Holland during the time of all the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, with the Spanish invading currently invading. Greta is an tavern keeper, about forty, whose husband left three years prior on a voyage to the New World, never to return and presumed lost. The first couple of pages are something of an infodump, but that’s all right because you need to know who these people are when they start dying. Which happens within a couple of pages.
|Brueghel’s The Triumph of Death|
The tavern is attacked by the dead, although these really aren’t zombies in the traditional sense. They’re skeletons and animated corpses. The handful of survivors end up fleeing the tavern, although not without a fight. Greta swings a mean sword. She swings a meaner skillet.
What follows is a nightmare scene out of Pieter Brueghel and Hieronymous Bosch. I mean literally; Hardy cites the two painters in his afterward.
I’m not familiar enough with the works of either of these two men to catch all the references to the various paintings. Some of them, though, weren’t hard to find. The scene by Bosch is one of those in the book. And yes, what it looks like is happening in the picture is what’s happening.
The story also becomes a wild trip not only through a devastated country side into the bowels of Hell itself, as envisioned by Hieronymous Bosch. Along the way Greta gains and loses a number of companions. My favorite was Christopher Marlowe, you can’t remember his own death and thinks he’s still alive. Hardy’s handling of him was especially well done.
There’s plenty of conflict here, with fights or battles in nearly every other chapter, including a war between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Crazy Greta is a fun book, but it’s not your typical fantasy. It’s different, and that’s a good thing.