Among its themes is mentorship -- gone horribly, supernaturally wrong.
Dante, a young heavy metal guitarist, is steadily approaching thirty; he’s between bands and between girls, feeling dry creatively – and getting increasingly uncomfortable with his lack of future direction in the industrial city of Birmingham. Used to living one day at a time, even he’s finding it hard to fight sensations of failure.
Enter Eliot Coldwell, professor in the Department of Theology at St. Andrews University in Scotland’s oldest university town. Dante’s always admired “Banquet for the Damned,” a controversial work of dark mysticism Coldwell wrote many decades before, and which Dante credits with inspiring and influencing his life. When Coldwell invites him to St. Andrew’s University to take up a position as his new research assistant, all expenses paid, Dante thinks he’s gotten the break of a lifetime.
But things turn out far differently for Dante as students at the university start dying in horrible ways after suffering terrifying and paralyzing sleep disturbances.
These deaths soon catch the attention of Hart Miller, a visiting academic, dealing with personal demons of his own. As Miller starts investigating, he crosses paths with Dante -- and Nevill's story becomes that of this mismatched pair as they try to confront and overcome a force of ancient evil.
Nevill’s writing is controlled – descriptive without ever becoming excessive or overwrought. He creates atmosphere very well:
“it is a night empty of cloud and as still as space",.
The old university town of St. Andrews provides the perfect setting. In his descriptions of its buildings and its architecture, Nevill has a keen eye for grim, stark detail which he uses skillfully in creating dark tone and mood. The violence and cruelty of St. Andrews’s witch-burning past weighs heavily on its present.
Nevill also put an impressive amount of research into his book, and he mentions he read heavily on the topics of witchcraft, the occult, and nightmares in preparing his story. One of these books was David J. Hufford’s “The Terror That Comes in the Night: Experience-centred Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions,” which explains “The Hag” or “The Old Hag” Newfoundland folk belief. In Hufford’s book, the Old Hag is described in this way:
“You are dreaming and you feel as if someone is holding you down. You can do nothing, only cry out. People believe that you will die if you are not awakened.”
Nevill uses this concept, mentioning Newfoundland in the process, but expands on it to create a tale exponentially frightening. At essence it is a story of supernatural revenge, with a realistic and convincing edge.