Book review

The Dungeon by Lynne Reid Banks (2002)

Here is a haunting story of habitual cruelty.

McLennan. He's a Laird, a Scottish Laird. You can make all kinds of excuses for him, but he is a monster. McLennan has suffered a terrible wrong at the hands of his enemy, McInnes, but in planning and executing his revenge he loses all humanity.

First, McLennan does not have a dungeon deep and hard enough to contain his enemy, so he builds himself a castle:

Bruce McLennan stared down into the newly-excavated depths. At the moment there was just a hole in the ground. But he could already see a dungeon.
He could imagine it lined with big blocks of stone. He could imagine iron rings in the walls, to which prisoners could be chained. He could imagine the huge wooden door with iron panels and hinges and lock, and a heavy brass key. He could even foreshadow a man, languishing down there in the raw depths, his prisoner - helpless, wretched, defeated - chained to the wall, not just a symbol of conquest but a real man, one he hated with his whole heart. Or what was left of it, for this villain had destroyed all that was precious and love-filled in the life of McLennan, leaving him a hollow man burning for vengeance, but not headstrong enough to go after it until he was ready.

Well, obviously, nobody builds a castle and dungeon overnight. McLennan leaves the work in hand and travels abroad. I suppose he is trying to fill his hours so that he does not have to think about his great loss. He travels to China and works as a mercenary soldier fighting for one warlord against others. He picks up some of the strange Chinese language, and some of the battle tactics which might stand him in good stead when he returns to his lands in Scotland.

Then he picks up something else. He chances upon a very young girl, who serves him at an eating place, and purposely, but pointlessly, buys her. Now the wretched child becomes the object of his morose and bitter temper. She submits to it all. What else should she do? She is a slave.

McLennan. If he had been half a man he might have redeemed himself at almost any stage of this story, but he fails utterly. Read it for yourself and see. I think you will be appalled and enthralled.

Highly recommended. But it is a horror story.

What can I read next?

Lynne Reid Banks has written other books for children, but not horror stories. She is probably best known for this magic series:

  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • Return of the Indian
  • The Secret of the Indian
  • The Mystery of the Cupboard
  • The Key to the Indian

I'm not sure there is much to match the sheer horror of Peony's end, but if you enjoy The Dungeon, you might like to look at this one by Susan Price:

Or you could look at something by David Almond. His stories can be dark and bleak, but they share a general theme of healing and everything usually turns out alright in the end. Have a look at:

Perhaps you might also be interested to see this story by Sally Prue:

If you would like to read a real-life story of habitual cruelty, have a look at this one by Adeline Yen Mah:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Dungeon features in these lists: