Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist is one of the books that I really hoped I would love. A supernatural thriller/horror novel targeted a general audiences its press material initially put me off due to its comparisons with The Historian a novel whose nostalgia drenched narrative felt more like a travelogue than a horror novel. Pyper’s novel never comes even close to a similar level of eye rolling nostalgia and manages to tell a passably good story along the way. The story of The Demonologist centers around Milton and Paradise Lost expert Professer David Ullman whose unique knowledge of Milton’s most famous work made him famous and seen him consult on some rather fascinating cases in the past. A mysterious offer to visit Italy offers Dr. Ullman and his daughter a chance to escape his impending divorce and offer them a chance to bond. Ullman’s experience in Italy tests the bounds of his skepticism and the seeming suicide of his daughter sends him on a quest to rescue her from the clutches of beings who Ullman has spent his life believing don’t exist.
Red Rose, 2012
Gearteeth by Timothy Black was a review request that sat in my inbox for a long time before I noticed it. When I did, and I read the books description, I decided not to request a copy from the author but rather went ahead and grabbed the Kindle version. Gearteeth is an alternate steampunk history set in 1910. In 1890 the United States was ravaged by a plague that transformed humans into ravenous werewolves, a plague the rapidly spread to the rest of the world. The remnants of humanity lead by a secret order of scientists founded by Nikola Tesla, the Tellurians, aided humanity by helping them escape the confines of gravity taking many of the great cities into the sky on telluric currents. The novel opens up 20 years after humanity has taken to the skies and introduces readers to brakeman Elijah Kelly who serves on one Wardenclyffe’s biggest thunder trains: Heaven’s Grace. The “Double Ts” chase thunderstorms in order to get energy for the floating city. Cut off from the other salvation cities (as the floating towns are known) Wardenclyffe and its Thunder Trains eke a hardscrabble living off the energy of the storms and off the scraps left behind on the surface.
Apparently I wrote this but never posted it here. The format is a bit different that usual since I wrote this for work. If you haven’t already check out the awesome trailer for This Book is Full of Spiders followed by atypically brief review.
In case you haven’t heard John Dies at the End is a movie now. This is a good thing since it lets me talk about John Dies at the End for a third time. Based on the book of the same that reviewed here, and mentioned here John Dies at the End is a low-budget project help brought to fruition by legendary horror director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba-ho-tep) and the enthusiasm of Paul Giamatti. There are only two directors I can think of who could stay true to the anythings-goes batshit insanity of JDatE and Coscarelli is one of those names, and Phantasm remains one of the best horror/fantasy flicks of any era (James Gunn is the other name I’m thinking of).
JDatE, for those too lazy to google, or click on one of the links above, is a wacked out send up to crazy and wonderful horror films of the 80s. A delightful and frenetic mashup of horror, fantasy, science fiction that revels in its own insanity to such a degree that when you’re a finished reading the novel your very mind is altered by the experience. If it wasn’t apparent let me say so now: I’m a fan. JDatE, both film and book, defies the expectations of genre and format to be its own thing. It is a novel born on the internet and film that both understands and revels in its own madness.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (read by Susan Duerden)
Hacette Audio, 2012
Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel The Rook is another one of those titles that goes down as something I wanted to really like but ended up disappointing me on some levels. It is also one of those audiobooks that whose narrator I wasn’t particularly fond of and who I have no doubt influenced my opinion of the novel on a whole. There are aspects of The Rook I definitely enjoyed and its premise is something I definitely found intriguing but as a novel I didn’t feel it came together quite as nicely as it aught to.
The Rook is a supernatural action thriller mystery adventure. If that sounds like an improbable mashup you are asbolutely correct but O’Malley does a valiant effort at making it all stick together. However, his tendancy to richochet back and forth between various themes, tones, and plots often leaves the novel a scattered and somewhat inconsistant feel. The novel centers around Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced, incorrectly, like Tiffany but with an M instead of a T) who wakes up in the rain surrounded by dead men in rubber gloves and no memory of who she is. A mysterious letter in her pocket, apparently written by her pre-amnesiac self, sets her on a journey fraught with mystery danger and the startling revelation of the Britain’s secret history. I don’t want to explain too much more than that, mainly because the slow unveiling of who Myfanwy is and just what the organisation she belongs to does is one of the best things about the novel. I will say that this super-secret government organisation is staffed my many people who have unique and often strange gifts.
Locke and Key, Vol 5: Clockworks
Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art)
Stop. No seriously. Stop. Have you been reading Locke and Key? If you’ve answered no you have two options. Option 1: Start reading Locke and Key. Seriously, this is an awesome comic that is so consistent in its greatness that it boggles the mind. Option 2: Leave. Yes, get out. Come back later if you want but know that I will pity you for having not read any Locke and Key. Obviously, I’d prefer you take Option 1. It’d really be better for both of us, but if you aren’t a person who likes horror, or the supernatural, or are just a general curmudgeon who enjoys being contrary you can probably stop reading and go do something else. I should also point out that if you haven’t read any Locke and Key that this review will most definitely contain spoilers for the earlier volumes. You’ve been warned.
F. Paul Wilson
William Morrow, 1981
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson is precisely the type of novel that my 8th Grade self would have absolutely devoured and loved. That isn’t to see the 29 year-old me didn’t enjoy but rather that some of its flaws become a bit harder to forgive. First of all you can’t really fault the initial premise in which Nazis take shelter in a strange keep only to unleash something horrible that begins to prey on them. I mean everybody enjoys seeing Nazis get there comeuppance. While this initial premise serves to get the reader through the door it also leads into a deep mythology revolving around a aeons old struggle between order and chaos that is further explored in the rest of Wilson’s Adversary Cycle.
Laird Barron is one of those authors who I always feel like I should read more of. I have delved, several times, into his Imago Sequence and Other Stories and the first story from that collection, “Old Virginia” ranks somewhere in the upper echelon of my favorites though and is one the more well regarded horror collections released in 21st Century. As I’ve said in the past I am not the best of short fiction readers so when I saw that Barron was slated to have his first full novel released in 2012 I was suitably excited to see what he could do in the long form. While I initially grabbed the publisher’s eARC via Netgalley I was dismayed to note that it was a PDF which I quickly abandoned to wait for the final version to hit shelves. Publishers remember this: PDFs are bad. Seriously, they do not conform well to e-readers unless your goal is annoy readers and give them headaches with tiny print. Thankfully The Croning was released without a hitch in the imminently more readable ePub (or in my case, Nook) format.
The Croning is a languid story about one man’s encounter with the dark, hidden side of the world. A dark, hidden side of the world that is born almost directly from fairy tales we think we know but watered down by years of adaptation. Over the course of the novel the novel’s protagonist Donald Miller incesantment and foolishly scratches away at the gloss that hides the truth not only of his wife and marriage but of the very foundations of the cosmos itself. This is not a happy novel, there is no optimism here, no light at the end of the tunnel. The Croning, in the traditional of supernatural horror writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood (the languid prose in many sections reminded me of the slow build of tension and dread in “The Willows”), is about the uncovering terrible truths sort of like opening Pandora’s box except wherein not even hope remains.
The Thing Which Should Not Be
Brett J Talley
Journal Stone, 2011
Nominated for the 2011 Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel Brett J. Talley’s The Thing Which Should Not Be is send up to the classic occult horror of the early 19th to mid-20th centuries. The novel contains several nested narratives and is couched as a found document. As I’ve said in the past the sort of found material is a tradition that extends back as far as 1764 with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and later made most famous in Stoker’s Dracula. The Thing Which Should Not Be isn’t a complete epistolary but rather a single lengthy letter with several narrated sub-stories that inform the overarching, a somewhat tenuous narrative at the novel’s core.
Angry Robot, 2012
I first encountered Chuck Wendig’s writing over at his frequently funny, often insightful, and consistently entertaining blog Terrible Minds. The folks over at Angry Robot supplied an eARC of his novel Blackbirds which I snatched up at the first possible opportunity. Blackbirds follows the tale of Miriam Black whose strange ability allows her to perceive a person’s future with skin to skin contact. She has used this ability to travel the roads preying on those whose lives are soon to end. She isn’t a murderer, she just waits for fate to her thing. Such is Miriam’s life, a crow living of the leavings of other people’s lives, until she meets truck driver Louis Darling. In her vision of Louis’ future and inevitable death he shouts her name.