Mini-Review: The Unblemished by Conrad Williams

The Unblemished
Conrad Williams
Virgin, 2008 (trade)/ Earthling, 2006 (HC)

The blurb from Conradwilliams.net:

A blood-crazed lover of amputee victims.

A mother determined to protect her only daughter no matter the cost.

A serial killer who believes he is the rightful son and heir to a horrific, ancient dynasty.

And one dying man who must make a stand against a horde of vengeful monsters who knew the shadows of London before the city even had a name.

This Halloween, if they catch you, you will beg for death

If you think that sounds like a lot to be contained in the pages of one book then I absolutely agree.  Weighing in at 367 pages Conrad Williams manages to craft a dense, taught narrative that reads like some kind of feverish nightmare.  It is the type of book that renews my interest in the horror genre.

I am never quite sure how I feel about horror fiction.  There is a lot of “bad” horror fiction out there and frequently I find even the “good” horror fiction, the award winners and the critically acclaimed, still manage to fall a bit flat.  There are a select few horror novels that I’ve read that have had any type of effect on me.  Two; actually.  Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a post-modern take on a haunted house tale with its twisted narrative structure and intertwined multi-tiered story, and Richard Matheson’s epic and bleak novella I am Legend are perhaps the only two pieces of horror fiction that have truly stuck with me over the years.  For me at least The Unblemished has earned itself a place amongst those two books thanks to the impression it has left on me.  An impression that, despite having read the book just about a year ago, sticks with me today.

The Unblemished weaves together a number of different elements from various schools of horror fiction.  You have the human horror of the amputee loving hitman (let me just say: sick!), fear of apocalypse, the survivor’s tales, and the human gestating insect/zombie creatures that rising from bowels of London.  I’m sure I’m missing some elements here but Williams weaves these disparate elements into a frightening pastiche colored by poetic language and deft description.

If you are a fan of horror fiction and somehow missed out on this you should really give it a chance.  If you’re a bibliophile I recommend you try to track down the 1st printing from Earthling Publications.  My copy (which I gave to a friend as a birthday gift) was signed but it constructed with paper and binding reminiscent of Subbteranean Press’ wonderful works and features absolutely splendid cover art (as see above, it’s a shame that it wasn’t used on the trade).  Anyway this is a book worth reading that fans of contemporary and classic horror fiction should enjoy.

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