Kirkus Reviews QR Code
COME HELL OR HIGH WATER by Stephen Morris

COME HELL OR HIGH WATER

Volume I: Rising

By Stephen Morris

Pub Date: June 20th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0465017720
Publisher: Self

This occult thriller explores the legends of medieval and modern Prague.

Magdalena, a bored administrative assistant in Prague, discovers the ghost of Fen’ka, an old woman burned alive as a witch in 1356, and agrees to help her pursue justice. Magdalena becomes more and more involved with the occult: She communicates with the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortuneteller murdered by the Nazis, and seeks out powerful demons to aid Fen’ka. Her story is interwoven with the novel’s strongest chapters, set in medieval Prague, which dramatize the effects of Fen’ka’s last dying curse on the city. Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves. Each self-contained medieval chapter builds tension fairly well; the chapters set in modern times, however, suffer in comparison, with uneven, diffused narrative tension and characters who only come to life through their interest in the occult. As a source of knowledge into occult practices—such as reading tarot cards, which provides the backdrop for many of its scenes—the novel sustains interest, although its momentum flags when trying to depict the mundane. However, the plot picks up toward the end, culminating with powerful demons let loose in Prague and the development of a compelling theme regarding Magdalena’s temptation to gain power and the price she’s willing to pay for it. Although the dialogue could use more subtlety, with characters often flatly stating what they believe, the plot and portrait of the 14th century are gripping enough to keep readers engaged.

An entertaining account of Czech folk and occult legends marred by uneven plot and dialogue.