Andrew Taylor is an American student sent to spend his senior year at a British boarding school, Harrow, because of some drug trouble he had at his last school at home. While he’s still adjusting to a new way of life – new culture, new slang, new food, etc – he unexpectedly discovers the dead body of a fellow student. Soon he is mixed up in Harrow’s history – legends from Lord Byron’s time there, and a ghost that supposedly still haunts the school.
British boarding schools, Lord Byron, and the ghost of a dead gay lover – can it really get any better than this? I rarely take review copies anymore, but as soon as I read the blurb on this one, I knew I had to read it. I’ve been obsessed with Lord Byron in recent weeks and this book was perfect to read not long after I finished Don Juan.
I was very impressed by the way Evans put this book together. He obviously did a lot of research not just on Byron, but on a whole range of subjects from British boarding school customs to certain medical conditions. I was particularly impressed by him pulling in a 1612 John Webster play (also called “The White Devil”). You often see books that reference popular classics (Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes…) but rarely ones that will pull out more obscure references like that.
The White Devil had a perfect gothic ghost story feel, set on a modern background. There were scenes that, I admit, were difficult for me to read (kind of gross) but over all I was entranced by the story. I love good gothic horror stories, especially when they have that old-fashioned kind of feel. Of course there were places that stretched credibility (it was a ghost story) but they fit well with the story itself. I loved the Byron elements, and I felt like Evans respected the poet while at the same time not glossing over his faults. Too often I see books that just treat Byron as an inhuman monster and that turns me off completely. Thankfully, The White Devil was not one of them. The GLBT elements were also well done, ranging from forbidden affairs in the early 1800s to the rampant anti-homosexuality that exists in the present-day all-boys’ school. Once again, I felt like Evans respected homosexuality while not glossing over the way some people view and/or treat it in real life.
The story was perfectly paced, building up to a fantastic, suspenseful climax and an ending that blew me out of the water. I’m obviously not going to talk about what happened, but I was surprised by the nontraditional path Evans took. It was a very bold move and satisfying to me, though I imagine it might be exactly the opposite to other readers, particularly readers who prefer modern over classic fiction. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to people who like this sort of gothic, ghost story book (Rebecca, Phantom of the Opera, The Monk). It’s the best of its type that I’ve read in modern fiction in quite a long time, plus it would make a wonderful RIP book when the season approaches!