The Devil in Derbyshire: Weird Tales of Argana Zeit Volume 2 by Owain Oakwood. A strange, demonic creature looms over a village in the Peak District late at night. The lights oare on in some windows, a path winding its way up a green hill, whilst most of the village nestles under the shadow of a stone viaduct. Argana Zeit, a young blonde woman, looks up at the strange figure with fear, her dog Max giving her a comforting look.

The Devil in Derbyshire

Weird Tales of Argana Zeit Volume 2 by Owain Oakwood

The second collection of Owain Oakwood’s short stories featuring the intrepid Argana Zeit, Trotterwell’s one and only paranormal investigator, is riotous fun. In these five stories Oakwood draws us back into Argana’s strange world involving marauding moles, cursed tattoos, poltergeists, werewolves and much more besides.

Oakwood has a gift for memorable characterisation, vivid description and natural storytelling. These cosy mysteries of the magical and arcane combine folk history, legend and the real setting of the Peak District in England. The result is something which is both refreshingly different but at the same time comfortingly familiar, allowing you to relax and unwind in the company of Argana and her faithful dog Max as they set out on another of their adventures.

The Peak District is once again vividly drawn through Oakwood’s expressive writing and this time we get to visit places like Thor’s Cave, Matlock Bath, Peveril Castle and Peak Cavern (known to locals as the Devil’s Arse) in Castleton.

“Melvyn gestured out at the near-panoramic view of the Derbyshire hills, bathed in winter light and dusted with the first snows of January. Gentle hills folded their way through a wooded landscape. All theirs to look at from the cosy embrace of the Arkwright Arms.”

Whilst I don’t think Millstone Beech is a real place, the way Oakwood describes the scene makes you think that it could be:

“It wasn’t long before the woods opened out into the deserted clearing. It had been named after its tallest tree, the one whose spreading branches blotted out the stars. Its exposed roots entombed the eponymous millstone, like a nest of spiders wrestling a Polo mint.”

I’ve done enough walks around the Peak District to instantly recognise that description of those long-forgotten stones, carefully crafted and carved but ultimately left abandoned and unused, which can be found all over this region.

The inhabitants of Trotterwell and its environs add another level of immersive detail, and once again we’re reunited with Melvyn the magician, Constable Berkshire and tech-genius Yasmin. Oakwood has a keen observational eye and I particularly liked how he characterised wannabe social media influencer Akira Pixels as he described his appallingly badly modernised home at Brink Hall:

“She stormed into the building, a sensory assault of neon paint over Edwardian wood panelling, retrofuturistic corbels and everywhere tasteless displays of avant-garde taxidermy.”

These tales are pure escapism, which perfectly melds Oakwood’s trademark humour with elements and people that feel real. I’ve definitely been served by Hilary, the owner of the Crossed Spoons, for example:

“Two coffees please, Hilary, one flat white and the other a spiced frappuccino!” Argana said, resting both elbows on the countertop of the Crossed Spoons, the eternally greasy café under the railway arches.

The owner nodded, pouring two identical filter coffees. “Milk’s on the counter. Two quid, love.”

I think with this anthology the stories and writing are both more confident and consistent, making it easy to slip straight back into this world after a few months away. Oakwood plays with a lot of ideas, and each tale is always inventive with plenty of surprises and action despite their short length.

If you like your fantasy on the lighter side, with engaging characters, plenty of humour and a strong sense of place then you will definitely enjoy Oakwood’s stories. Sit back, relax and spend an hour or two in the company of Argana Zeit and Max. You won’t regret it.

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Author: Tim Hardie

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