A mother and son are hunted by vindictive giant pigs!
As with many books I review, particularly with authors I do not familiar with, I read little about them in advance and dive straight in and see where it takes me. Rob Bliss’s Widow was such a novel; I was vaguely aware it concerned a woman and her son being stalked by a benevolent presence, but little else. Which it was, and it wasn’t, as the pair were repeatedly hunted by monstrous pigs which were the size of rhinos, who appeared in the middle of the night. That basic synopsis makes Widow sound very trashy, but it really is not, far from it. This was a very strange book and I doubt there is any single ‘correct’ interpretation of what it all means (which might also be nothing). I’m certainly not sure I understood it, and after the exceptionally bizarre ending I went right back to the start and read the first 10% again searching for a clue I might have missed which might provide more answers. The author should take that as a compliment. Ambiguity is an important part of the horror genre and Widow has it in buckets, but the next reviewer may well disagree with my interpretation. It’s just one of those books.
The story opens not long after the death of principal character Joan’s husband and she is then forced to move from home to home as they are repeatedly followed by entities which seem to be both hunting them and deliberately destroying the abode they have moved to. Crucially, before the death the family had a pig farm, whether this is the reason why the entities which stalk them take the form of giant pigs is open to question. It is never made clear how many times they have moved, but Joan’s son Joey, longs for a proper home again and as he also sees the pigs, it is clear the manifestations are not merely from the imagination of Joan.
There was something of the classic fairy-tale in Widow, or an inversion of it, where the little (hardly!) pigs become the hunters and destroy yet another house. Of course, in the Three Little Pigs story there is also a wolf, so make sure you hang in here for a howler of an ending! There were many very peculiar passages of action, for example, when an old truck driver gives Joan the key to live in his remote cabin (who would do that?) or when an armed policeman turns up at her cabin. It had a strange magical realism vibe to it and once in the cabin the mother and son become hunters themselves, literally overnight, killing for food.
Some readers may find the vagueness of it all frustrating; why were they being hunted at all? The mother repeatedly does strange stuff; at one point they build a house in a field made from hay-bales. Hang on a minute, didn’t one of the three pigs live in a straw house? I get the feeling not all of this was supposed to make sense. It that was deliberate the author surely nailed it! There are relatively few characters in the book, but the relationship between Joey and his mother was a real standout and the matter of fact way the little boy accepts the normality of being stalked by a giant pig was quite unnerving; “The house is gone, mommy. The piggy’s eating it,” he says before they hit the road once again. Widow is mainly written in the third person from Joan’s point of view, but it does move to Joey on occasions also.
I don’t want to say much more about Widow otherwise I’ll be heading into spoiler territory. It’s quirky, odd and a rather unique read which is likely to be one of those books which will both split the critics and frustrate readers. Having said that, I still found it oddly charming. Potentially it could have been developed into a more substantial work as so much is left unsaid. Does it have a deeper, more symbolic, meaning? Only Rob Bliss can answer that question. Or perhaps it is simply about a mother and son being stalked by giant pigs? I’m happy either way.
When Joan's husband dies, she is forced to move with her young son, Joey, from home to home. But at each home, an evil follows, forcing Joan and Joey to move again and again, hunted.They never know why they’re being hunted. All they can do is run away from the constant threat until, hopefully, it gives up the chase … or they find a savior who can either end it, or help them to fight it forever."
Having enjoyed the previous two novels featuring Kathy Ryan, occult investigator with law enforcement connections, I was very much looking forward to Inside The Asylum, knowing it would feature heavily Kathy’s brother Toby, a character who haunts the two previous books but is very much backstage for the most part; a presence felt rather than seen.
This novel does feature Toby more heavily, and SanGiovanni delivers well on his earlier promise; he’s a malignant, cold, calculating and ruthless character, and his interactions with Ryan are potent. That said, he’s not the focus of the narrative. The focus instead is on Henry Banks, a fellow inmate in Toby’s asylum, who has been the victim of abuse… and whose imaginary friends may actually be capable of killing people - whether or not he wants them too.
It’s a gripping premise, and SanGiovanni plays it out well, the tension not coming from any sense of whether or not the situation is real or delusional - by the end of the first chapter, we know it’s real - but rather from seeing the rational world in general, and Ryan in particular, trying to make sense of what’s going on as events spiral out of control.
The sense of building dread and escalating stakes were very reminiscent of Chills, for me, which is no bad thing, but I think the nature of the threat here was even more compelling. There is a profound weirdness to the events Inside The Asylum, and SanGiovanni pulls out all the stops in terms of both imagination and visualisation, delivering a narrative that drips with tension, and a series of gripping action horror scenes.
The story also centers Ryan more than previous entry Behind The Door, which I appreciated; she’s a brilliantly realised character, with a shell of stoicism that protects some profound damage, and this story puts her through the wringer both physically and psychologically; not least because it forces her to work with her psychopath brother to try and avert the threat.
Inside The Asylum is another superb novel from SanGiovanni - tense, imaginative, dark as hell, violent and unnerving.
INSIDE THE ASYLUM BY MARY SANGIOVANNI
From "master of cosmic horror" (Library Journal) Mary SanGiovanni, comes the latest terrifying novel featuring occult specialist Kathy Ryan . . .A mind is a terrible thing to destroy . . .
Kathy has been hired to assess the threat of patient Henry Banks, an inmate at the Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the same hospital where her brother is housed. Her employers believe that Henry has the ability to open doors to other dimensions with his mind-making him one of the most dangerous men in modern history. Because unbeknownst to Kathy, her clients are affiliated with certain government organizations that investigate people like Henry-and the potential to weaponize such abilities.
What Kathy comes to understand in interviewing Henry, and in her unavoidable run-ins with her brother, is that Henry can indeed use his mind to create "Tulpas"-worlds, people, and creatures so vivid they come to actual life. But now they want life outside of Henry. And they'll stop at nothing to complete their emancipation. It's up to Kathy-with her brother's help-to stop them, and if possible, to save Henry before the Tulpas take him over-and everything else around him.
eden by time lebbon review
I'll be upfront from the get-go I have been a fan of Tim's writing for a very long time, by my reckoning we have had an author/reader relationship of around 23 years, that's only four years short of the time I have been with my wife. I still remember seeing a review for his debut novel Mesmer in SFX magazine and purchasing a copy direct from the publisher. It was a fantastic first novel, so good that over the proceeding years I have probably put more time into the pages of his books than any other author. Although, Twenty-three years and countless books read does run the risk of making the relationship a bit stale, could Eden be the book that makes me have an extra authorial affair?
Eden is a near-future adventure, horror science fiction mash-up, of a novel set in a world that is just a hair's breadth away from the world that we currently live in.
In response to the escalation of environmental disasters and world pollution, the governments of the world come together to make the drastic decision to Zone off thirteen areas of the world. These zones have been completely sealed off from human intervention in a last ditched attempt to halt the complete disintegration of the world's ecosystem. Believing that if left to their own devices and devoid of the parasitic nature of humanity, they will find an ecosystemic equilibrium and act as the lifeblood to the world at large.
The process of the zoning had huge ramifications on thousands of people, forced rehoming, and resettlement of the indigenous populations is leading to a degree of resentment and hostility to the project. The zones are now protected by an extreme paramilitary force with the power to shoot on sight anyone attempting to break the lockdown. However, that hasn't deterred the most hardened of extreme adventurers. With zones being continuously compromised by teams of people determined to gain notoriety on a sort of dark web, with the thrill of being the first person to traverse all of the thirteen zones is a highly treasured prize.
The Eden of the book title is the oldest of the thirteen zones, a wild and untamed region that likes to keep its secrets close to its heart and stop at nothing to protect them. Queue a team of extreme adventures, headed up by Dylan and his daughter Jenn, who is not only looking to be the first team to make it across the Zone but are also searching for clues to the disappearance of Kat the wife and mother to Dylan and Jenn. Let's say when they go down to the woods today they are in for a surprise a million times more shocking than a Teddybear's picnic.
Eden is an explosive novel, with a lot to say about the current situation that the planet faces. Lebbon employs several smart literary techniques throughout the novel, such as preceding each chapter with accounts from various sources not directly connected the main narrative thrust of the novel. These excerpts from personal accounts of those affected by the rehoming and resultant lockdown of the zones and press releases form those tasked with defending the integrity of the zones, add an extra layer of social commentary to the novel. It allows Lebbon to explore the discontent and frustrations of those who have not fully signed on to the concept. It also allows an insight into the workings of the Zone Defence Zone and the fact that they may not be the white knights in shining armour as they would have us believe.
These accounts and the fact that the main thread of the book is all about people breaking the quarantine rules is a chilling window onto the world right now as we all enter a lockdown in response to the pandemic raging across the globe, with the Zone Defence Force sound more and more like Trump's Space defence force. Lebbon's use of this technique allows him to explore a lot of thoughts and feelings on the subject without ever sounding preachy and hammering his beliefs down our throats. Lebbon's ability to tackle some heavy concepts within the main body of the novel is one of the highlights of the book. It has been four months since I finished the story, and even now in enters my thoughts regularly. The sheer audacity and hubris of humanity is something that makes my blood boil, take a look at the idiots flaunting the global lockdown protocols currently in place, and the parallels to the extreme adventurers flaunting the lockdowns around and in the zones. It's mindblowing how we, as a species, seemed hardwired to bring about our own mutually assured destruction. And even before this happened I spent a lot of time thinking about people like David Attenborough, now stay with me on this, for all the great and good that he has done over the years, wouldn't it be better for the world if people like him stopped visiting all these natural havens and allowed them to exists without even more people heading to them after watching one of his programmes? I have thought on this for days and still can't come up with an answer.
Another of the great literary devices that Tim employs is the sporadic shift in narrative viewpoint from Dylan and Jenn's team to that of Kat. It allows two things to happen; firstly, we are given an insiders perspective of life within the Zone, and its power to mould and shape a person. And secondly, it allows for a cementing of the motivations of Dylan and Jenn. By adding this extra layer jeopardy for them, it adds an extra layer to the narrative. There isn't a vast amount of characterisation within the novel; the leading players can be easily classed into an almost Breakfast Club set of characters, which isn't a criticism as such, as the story doesn't require pages upon pages backstory and motivation. What it does allow for an intense exploration of the dynamics between Dylan and his daughter and the effect of a parent abandoning the family unit.
Eden is a classic novel of two halves, with the first part of the book a masterclass in tension building as the team head through the Zone. Tim hints at the dangers and nightmares While nothing graphic or in your face occurs during the first act, Tim's tight writing and descriptive prowess, with soon have the reader shivering with fear at the merest hint of a bustle in the hedgerow. This forest does not echo with laughter.
Then at a critical moment in the story, which mixes shades of Clive Barker and Jeff VanderMeer, Lebbon takes the brakes off and plunges the team straight into a heart of darkness. This sudden shift in narrative tempo runs the risk of giving the reader a case of literary whiplash, as Dylan and Jenn face off against the true nature of the Zone in a desperate bid to make it out alive. The term cinematic prose is one that is bandied about far too often. Still, I will stake my reputation that the final act of this book is one of the most genuinely cinematic experiences you will ever have while reading.
While there is definitely a supernatural/science fiction element to the messed up ecosystem of Eden, Lebbon keeps the more fantastical elements reigned in, don't expect two-headed bears or giant hybrid animals, the team face off against animals that are normal for want of a better word. It is the Zone itself that comes to the four in terms of being the antagonist of the book. I refuse to call it the villain as the Zone is acting like a protective mother, rather than an outright monster.
Eden is a perfect product of its time, an angry scream at the annihilative nature of humanity, and a consummate example of a high concept adventure novel, multilayered, emotive and thought provoking, it cements Lebbon's place at the top table of genre fiction.
eden by tim lebbon
From the bestselling author of The Silence comes a brand-new horror eco thriller. In large areas of the planet, nature is no longer humanity's friend
In a time when Earth's rising oceans contain enormous islands of refuse, the Amazon rainforest is all-but destroyed, and countless species edge towards extinction, the Virgin Zones were established in an attempt to combat the change. Off-limits to humanity and given back to nature, these thirteen vast areas of land were intended to become the lungs of the world.
Dylan leads a clandestine team of adventurers into Eden, the oldest of the Zones. Attracted by the challenges and dangers posed by the primal lands, extreme competitors seek to cross them with a minimum of equipment, depending only on their raw skills and courage. Not all survive.
Also in Dylan's team is his daughter Jenn, and she carries a secret - Kat, his wife who abandoned them both years ago, has entered Eden ahead of them. Jenn is determined to find her mother, but neither she nor the rest of their tight-knit team are prepared for what confronts them. Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way. And here, nature is no longer humanity's friend.
We work in an industry where thousands of books are published seemingly on the hour. So many go to such great lengths to try and stand out, tricks and gimmicks to cause a head to turn. Sometimes these games will work. More often, not.
Then there are the occasional authors who can distinguish themselves with their words and their voice.
This is the second book of Tone Milazzo that I have had the pleasure to read, the first being the Faith Machine. And what I find most striking about them is the notion that they came from the same mind. And that may seem like a criticism but I actually mean the exact opposite. It’s no small task to infuse new books with such a fresh feeling of entering into a totally new and unexpected universe.
Picking Up The Ghost tells the story of Cinque, a young man struggling, with no place of his own in this world. He lives in a town that is gradually slipping away into obscurity, leaving him adrift and disconnected from the present and what the future might bring for him. He receives word from the city of Chicago that his long since departed father has passed away, leaving him severed from his past as well. Cinque is a character that seems to be struggling for a story.
He just needs someone to write it.
Going against seemingly the advice of everyone in his life, Cinque decides to go to Chicago to reclaim his fathers belongings and maybe in the process reclaim some of his father as well.
And from the point he discovers his father’s death, we are plunged into worlds of possibility that no one, Cinque included, had likely ever considered.
This is a magical journey which I think has the potential to appeal to a large group of readers in terms of age and genre. It goes down a path that definitely requires your attention. It isn’t going to stick with the conventional and there are going to be moments of beautiful abstraction but through it all you have some confidence in that you are in the hands of a qualified author who is leading the way
We writers love to talk about this thing called “world building.” It means pretty much how it sounds although it is usually used in reference to science fiction. Essentially it is about establishing the rules and parameters of the world in which your story takes place. What is this place called “Narnia” anyway? What happens there? How do you get there? How do you get back?
In stories that lean on the fantastic, it’s not as difficult to just splash in some colors of the bizarre and then sit back to revel in how clever you think you are. But in this case, this isn’t just about creating abstract situations for the characters. You really sense the time and care which Milazzo has expended in creating this book. This was no quick endeavor and I think it made the book all the better for the love and respect he seems to have for it all.
This is not a book that is overly long, although you may find yourself wishing it was as it starts to wind down. It’s storytelling that deserves to be recognized in the finest traditions of David Lynch and Neil Gaiman. It takes you on a journey that, if nothing else, is going to likely be unlike any that you have ever undertaken before. One of the upsides to writing these reviews is the chance to be exposed to books that you never would have encountered otherwise. And while sometimes this means books that are disappointments, this book is definitely far from that. It’s a welcome breath of original possibility from an author who I think will have many more narrative moments that will be worth taking note of.
Living in St. Jude, a 110-year-old dying city on the edge of the Mississippi, is tough. But when a letter informs fourteen-year-old Cinque Williams of the passing of the father he never met, he is faced with an incomplete past and an uncertain future. A curse meant for his father condemns Cinque to a slow death even as it opens his eyes to the strange otherworld around him. With help from the ghost Willy T, an enigmatic White Woman named Iku, an African Loa, and a devious shape-shifter, Cinque gathers the tools to confront the ghost of his dead father. But he will learn that sometimes too much knowledge can be dangerous — and the people he trusts most are those poised to betray him!
This book may be my favorite read so far this year. It’s a YA novel, but I sometimes really enjoy reading books aimed at an audience younger than me. But it was a very enjoyable read and I found myself looking forward to reading it every day. Between the believable characters, the clever storyline and Rhonda’s writing style, this is definitely one to pick up.
I liked the first-person narrative very much. Rhonda did a very good job of writing in Morgan’s point-of-view. Morgan is dealing with a couple of recent traumatic life events - one that has deeply affected her entire family - and another she is afraid to speak about and is trying to work through it alone. I was able to see a deep and realistic world through the eyes of a teenager but also get enough perspective of the world around her to where I felt like I was part of her world. I know that writing in the first-person POV can be a challenge, and I know some readers don’t like reading in that POV at all, but Rhonda did a beautiful job of helping me experience Morgan’s world like the teenager she is.
Rhonda has a very pleasant writing style. Everything is easy to understand - there was no having to re-read anything because everything flowed so nicely. Her dialogue between characters was very natural. And I loved the detail she gave to the characters’ actions - their facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal cues were so realistic it was like watching a movie.
While it took awhile for the action and the creepiness to pick up, overall the storyline was fantastic. Every time I thought I’d predict a situation’s outcome, it would turn in a totally different direction. And the parts that were meant to be creepy, where really creepy. Some of the scenes took place in an old, abandoned hospital with a dark history and rumors of a ghost. That always puts me in the mood for a creepy story. I love abandoned buildings, so experiencing the creepy hospital with Morgan was a real treat. I also liked the concept that a Polaroid camera could draw out the absolute worst in people with just a simple snapshot. And there was some real beauty painted into the scary, nightmarish scenes near the end.
My only complaint with the book is that it was a little heavy on the inner workings of Morgan’s mind. I know she was working through some very believable and very traumatic events, but I was hoping for more scares. The ending felt rushed and I was left with a few big unanswered questions. Normally that would bother me, but honestly I enjoyed the book’s overall atmosphere and Rhonda’s writing style so much that I’m willing to overlook it. And maybe it was purposefully left open-ended to make room for a sequel?? I would totally dig a sequel.
If you enjoy YA novels or know of a teen looking for a horror book that’s not so much about being scary as it is about dealing with sad and traumatic past experiences, this is one to consider.
Hollow by Rhonda Parrish
A car accident shattered sixteen-year-old Morgan's family. Now her brother’s dead, her mom's paralyzed in more ways than one, her dad lives at work and her seven-year-old sister Amy tries too freaking hard to salvage everything. What’s more, high school is its own special kind of hell, where her ex-boyfriend delights in spreading rumors that shred her reputation and make her feel like a loser.
When she finds an old camera in a creepy abandoned hospital, it seems like her luck is finally changing. And it is changing--from bad to worse. Because of course it is. Each time Morgan photographs one of her classmates they become corrupted versions of themselves. It's like the camera steals their goodness, their essence, and leaves them hollow.
Then her sister uses the camera to take a selfie.
No matter what the cost, Morgan will find a way to reverse the effects of the cursed camera and save Amy, before her already-fractured family completely self-destructs.
I’ve spent my whole life being late to the party, and my reading habits are just another manifestation of this general failing. I’ve not read a huge amount of Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy, despite both subgenres having been around so long that people are now muttering darkly about the markets being oversaturated. Moreover, the book I’m about to review, Blood Ink by Dana Fredsti, is in fact a sequel to 2017’s Spawn of Lilith, and I haven’t read that either. You may by now be wondering why I asked to review this book at all! Well, there are two reasons: i) I fancied a change from my usual reading material, and ii) I was attracted by the way Fredsti has managed to put a new spin on an area of fantasy which is, if not saturated, at least well- populated.
The heroine of Blood Ink, Lee Striga, is a young stuntwoman living and working in LA. In Fredsti’s world, Lee’s chosen profession is dominated by “supernaturals” – people who appear more or less ordinary on first inspection, but who turn out to be werebeasts or hemidemisemigods or what have you, and draw on their supernatural talents to excel in their jobs. Putting aside the unlikeliness of these “supe” stunt teams managing to keep their secret natures safe from the general population (this isn’t Ken Loach gritty realism after all), I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn about the life of a stunt performer, especially as the author is herself a B-movie actress who has done her own sword stunts in the past.
Things get off to a promising start. In lieu of conventional opening chapters or a prologue, Fredsti has made the unusual move of beginning the novel with two chunks of scripts from different films Lee has been involved with. These sections are interspersed with Lee’s own thoughts, and in the process we learn a bit about her backstory – she’s now recovering from injuries sustained on the disastrous film shoot featured in the first book. This is done in a way that flows well and doesn’t feel too much like an info dump.
Lee is finding it hard to get work after killing a producer, like you do, though we do get to see her perform a human-torch fire stunt, a scene full of interesting detail. After that things do start to wander a bit, however. The main action in this book is meant to be set in New Orleans, but it actually takes a surprisingly long time for Lee to touch down in the Big Easy. This absence of action is bad news for a novel of this kind, which should be quick off the blocks, pacey and full of pulpy thrills, though this state of affairs is perhaps partly explained by Lee’s underemployed status – the job she’s hired to do in New Orleans is not a very desirable gig, so some time has to be spent screwing her up to the right pitch of desperation to take it. On the plus side, Lee’s story is intercut with some suitably hideous scenes featuring victims of a dodgy occult tattoo artist. The poor saps’ sufferings are conveyed in deep third person in a way that should be nasty enough for most fans of horror, let alone fantasy.
The relative lack of hi-jinks in the first half of the book also gives the first-time reader a chance to become acquainted with Lee. In some ways she’s a very average urban fantasy heroine, with the usual propensity for ass-kicking and wry quips. On the plus side, some of these jokes actually hit the target, which is by no means always the case in this type of fiction, and she does have some likeable qualities. She’s a lot fonder of food and drink than you might expect from a Hollywood professional, and her attitude to the endless procession of buff paranormal studs draped throughout the book is reassuringly non-stupid. This is not the sort of book where endless scenes of otherworldly bonking are deployed to mask a lack of plot, either, and the reader will finish the book mercifully uninformed as to whether or not love-interest werewolf Randy is the proud possessor of a lupine knot.
But what of Lee’s friendships with other women? This, in my experience, can be a stumbling-block for some paranormal romance writers. In my opinion the field is too full of heroines who are presented as “tomboys” (despite being very conventionally feminine-looking), a condition which is then used as a springboard for slut-shaming the other female characters and engaging in all sorts of plain old misogyny. I won’t deny that I feared the worst when Lee announced that she’s always found it hard to form ties with other women, but fortunately Fredsti includes some welcome character development which has Lee both deepening an existing female friendship (as a bonus, her friend is the sort of character who’d probably get whacked with the slut-hammer in a less feminist book) and even making a new mate once she hits New Orleans.
In fact, apart from the opening chapters, Lee’s burgeoning friendship with the hard-up young tattoo artist Tia is probably the best thing in the book. While Fredsti’s evocation of the touristic delights of New Orleans is not going to be costing James Lee Burke any sleep, there is a scene where Lee visits Tia’s makeshift home that feels very real, and it offers some much-needed ballast in a novel where things eventually start getting very supernatural indeed. Fredsti is going for a full-on Lovecraftian Elder God thing – in fact the word “Lovecraftian” is used twice as a descriptor – and there are great quantities of squamous, rugose beasties and revolting occult/human hybrids for those as want them.
Personally, although I enjoyed Lee’s original use of a plastic coffee-shop knife in her fight against the slobbery-tentacled forces of evil, I would’ve liked to see more of the stunt stuff and less of the cosmic horror elements, which I find often work best when used sparingly. Considering Fredsti’s background there are surprisingly few details about film-making and stunts. “Write what you know” is a dreadful cliché, but I honestly think she should make more use of her knowledge of this fascinating world. It’s certainly a strategy that works when she puts her experience of cats to hand! (Fredsti is a cat charity advocate, and one of the book’s most lifelike scenes involves some werekittens tumbling about in an endearing manner while inadvertently switching back and forth between their human and feline forms.)
All in all, though, I’m pretty sure ‘Blood Ink’ will satisfy lovers of writers like Charlaine Harris and Lilith Saintcrow. Although it has some pacing issues it’s not a hard slog, and is in fact the kind of easily digestible, escapist fiction that is often described as a good “beach read”. Though rest assured, the beach in this case would definitely be writhing with the abominable spawn of the Great Hydra Mother and drenched in the blood of sunbathers who’ve failed to dodge the salty wrath of Dagon. And that is how it should be.
BLOOD INK BY DANA FREDSTI
Lee Striga—stuntwoman and demon-killer extraordinaire—is in dire need of a job, any job. After the disastrously bloody events of her last movie, word has got around that Lee’s a dangerous woman. Hollywood—even the supernatural side of it—has closed its doors to her. That is, until a mysterious new producer appears with a job offer that seems too good to be true. Pity Lee can’t stand the sight of him.
But beggars can’t be choosers, and soon Lee is in New Orleans, working stunts on a horror movie like no other—with a cast and crew of werecats, crocodile-men, and an artistically frustrated ghoul. But before she even arrives on set, Lee’s demon-killing legacy as Lilith’s descendant draws her into a whole new mystery, and a desperate fight for survival.
For those who haven’t heard of Robert Brockway, he’s a difficult cat to explain. Maybe I’d start by telling you about his first book, RX-A Tale of Electronegativity, a Terry Gilliam-esque journey through the circles of a technological hell guided by a professional drug addict. Maybe I’d start with the Vicious Circuit trilogy, where punks do their level best to headbutt their way through existential terror manifested in an army of soulless trendies. Maybe I’d simply tell you he was one of the key personalities behind cracked.com, which for a while there was the best thing to happen to internet comedy since SeanBaby.
For those that have heard of Brockway, I probably don’t need to tell you to be excited and curious about his latest work. Brockway’s bag of tricks is large, bulky, and stained with something that might be blood or might be barbecue sauce. When he says he’s got something a little different for you, you pay attention.
Enter Carrier Wave, a horror epic that is at once clever, charming and very, very brutal.
Reminiscent of (but not derivative of) Max Brooks World War Z, Brockway tells the story of a coming apocalypse through varied points of view, as the world tries to understand, and then survive, the horrors that await them.
And the horrors are horrible indeed. When a mysterious signal turns people into raving, super-powered maniacs, our various protagonists are left bloodied and bewildered. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s a pattern to the madness, an unknowable end game that must be prepared for. What follows is a relentless escalation of hostilities where surviving the slaughter of everything you knew is only the beginning.
The maniacs might claw at you. They might dismember you. They might do something much, much worse.
Chronicling the world-ending events spanning years are a mixed bag of relatable everybodies, and this is perhaps the strongest part of Carrier Wave. Each character we meet is so instantly and believably human, it’s so easy to make friends with them. But the odds are terrible and the stakes about as high as they can be. Few will survive, and fewer still will survive intact. You’ll find your heart in your mouth hoping that someone makes it, even as the sheer unlikelihood of their survival crushes your soul.
This is by far the least comedy-centric work Brockway has published, and, untethered a little from his aggressive absurdism, we are left with quite a deadly combination for a horror writer- someone who finds the relatable humanity in a situation, and someone who, if needed, will stoically pulverise that humanity with a lump hammer while you watch.
Hey, man- good horror isn’t easy to write, and sometimes it shouldn’t be easy to read.
Saying that, though, Carrier Wave is an absolute page turner. Despite the cosmic terror and the brutal violence, there’s intrigue and action to rival the best-written thrillers. You’ll want to know what happens next even if you’re afraid to find out. And, as epic as the scope of this novel is, the way Brockway chooses to tell it is so tight and effortless you won’t even notice that you’ve read far into the night.
There’s a lot to like in Carrier Wave for fans of more fantastical horror. Taking the batons from King, Romero and Lovecraft, Brockway juggles them almost casually, giving us an epidemic thriller to rival The Stand, a zombie apocalypse far more deadly than Night of the Living anything, and cosmic horrors that aren’t just glimpsed beyond the veil, but studied in a way that makes them horribly real.
Carrier Wave is ambitious and it lives up to its ambition. Brockway’s writing is warm, funny, astute and sometimes deeply sad. But it’s not all bleak- it is, like his other works, shot through with an almost head-shaking admiration for humanity’s own ballsiness.
My advice to you is to catch Carrier Wave now so you can have the warm glow of superiority of having read the original before the inevitable television adaptation is released.
CARRIER WAVE BY ROBERT BROCKWAY
Humanity listened to the night sky. What we heard shattered the world.
Just once. That’s it.
As soon as you hear it, it has you. And once it has you, it’s over. You may think you’re in control. You’re not. You want one more listen. You want to look at that strange spot in the sky. The one that’s been slowly growing. The one that didn’t make sense… until you listened. You want to listen again, and you will do whatever it takes to make everyone else listen. By any means necessary. Even if it kills you.
Just one more listen. One more.
The Twisted Ones is a creepy folk horror with nods to (or maybe a unknowing sequel to) ‘The White People’ by Arthur Machen. From a troubled childhood into an equally (by the sounds) troubled adulthood, Mouse has the unfortunate duty of going to clean up, and empty out, her deceased grandmothers’ home. Not a task anyone relishes, even more so when you didn’t really get along with the lady, or even like her very much. I thought it was a nice touch that they acknowledged that families may not get along or even like each other, but if you need them, they will be there.
With her Redbone Coonhound ‘Bongo’, she begins the arduous task of going through one cluttered room after another in this house of a hoarder, eventually coming across her late step-grandfather’s journal. It seems like nonsense, the ramblings of a mad man, but then Mouse witnesses the ‘ramblings’ first hand in the woods.
“I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.”
I quite enjoyed this tale, more so for the character element than the story itself. There are some great characters, Foxy particular being my favourite of the book. A vivacious lady with a heart of gold who has no trouble saying what she thinks. I also found the descriptive element, and the snark of Mouse quite refreshing. I especially enjoyed a scene early on while she is going through the house and finds ‘the doll room’, referring to it as a “monument to infanticide”. I find dolls extremely creepy, especially those porcelain ones that could almost be real.
The Twisted Ones is a great read, particularly like I said, if you are a fan of The White People. It full of chills and it genuinely creepy with a soft side, the relationship between Mouse and Bongo. It’s a fantastic character story, filled with ups and downs and some great relationships with a side of scary.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.
When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother's house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?
Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.
Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.
From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher.” Goodreads