Book Review: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Jude Brighton is missing, and only his ten-year-old cousin, Stevie, seems concerned. Most of the town regards Jude as merely trouble, and write him off as a likely runaway. But Jude isn’t the first disappearance from the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon. Pets have long gone missing from backyards, and years ago another young boy went missing, found weeks later torn to pieces . . . The adults in town seem determined to avoid thinking about these mysteries, and it seems that Stevie may have to take matters into his own hands.

It has been a while since I’ve read a true horror novel, and I came away from The Devil Crept In with a renewed love of the genre. Ahlborn has an excellent sense of suspense, and fills the narrative with enough background menace to keep the reader on edge throughout the book.

In addition, Stevie, our narrator, seems to be suffering from some schizophreniform disorder, adding a delicious uncertainty to everything about the book. Stevie is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and we can never be sure if the things that happen are real, or a product of his mental illness.

Ahlborn is a rare female voice in a genre nearly completely dominated by men. Fans of Stephen King, Nick Cutter, Joe Hill and other giants of the genre would do well to read her work. Ahlborn is clearly able to set her own bloody stake near the top of the hill of horror writers.

Book Review: I am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Colleen Danzig is an aspiring writer of Lovecraftian fiction. While attending the biggest gathering for Lovecraftian literary types: The Summer Tentacular in Providence, Rhode Island, she finds the hardcore fans more than a little off-putting. When her roommate–a widely admired and equally despised writer named Panossian–is murdered and his face surgically removed, Colleen finds that she is the only one who seems to care about Panossian’s death. Deciding to start her own investigation, she delves into the underbelly of the Lovecraftian fandom, a place where racism and sexism merge with mystical thinking, and more than one convention goer seems to be searching for a book bound in human skin . . .

This is a meta-fiction, a Lovecraft book about Lovecraft folks. There are no cosmic horrors here, though, just the banal horror of truly terrible people. I do like the split narrative between the well-meaning and frustrated Colleen and the dead, decomposing, but still conscious Panossian, which did give the book a touch of Lovecraftian horror. the tone of the book is bitter and snarky, focusing on the trouble that arises when you have too many socially-backward folks in one place. Despite the occasionally sour-grapes-esque tone, Mamatas does bring forward some legitimate problems both with Lovecraft himself and with a subset of his fans (see previous: racism, sexism, etc.).

The plot of the book stumbles at times, switching viewpoints or segueing with little warning. In addition, the various secondary characters tend to be a bit one dimensional, which occasionally makes it difficult to keep these players straight.

The book is quite funny at times, but I would recommend it more for the serious Lovecraft fan, and not a casual reader.

Book Review: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but: Beyond this point are MAJOR spoilers for the first two books in The Strain Trilogy. If you haven’t read the first two books, you should click on the link in the last sentence.

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On with the show.

The Strain series started off great. In the first book, the authors recreate the classic Dracula scene with the death ship Demeter, but in this century, its a Boeing 777 dead on the tarmac, and naturally we nowadays are less concerned about a plague than about terrorists. The build up in the first two books as Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Jones of the CDC, the Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, the exterminator Vasily Fet, and others slowly learn the scope of what they are facing, and just how insurmountable their odds are, is great. You grow to love these characters. And, in a change from most vampire books, you have no sympathetic feelings towards the monsters themselves (making the vampires overlarge human ticks who shit while they eat certainly helps forestall any tender feelings).

So bring on the final installment! We come in two years after the events of The Fall. The Master has brought nuclear winter down upon the earth, humans have been herded into blood camps or forced to work to support the continuation of the series. The vampires have won.

And Ephraim is lost. We find Eph, now basically a drug addict hobo, spending a night in his ex-wife’s old house, feeling depressed about not knowing where his son, Zack, is (let’s remember that Kelly, the ex-wife in question and vampire, kidnapped Zack in the last book). Little does he know that Zack is being groomed by the Master to be his new vessel. Meanwhile, Nora, Fet, and a few others are trying to continue to fight. That is, when they’re not being screwed over by Eph’s unreliability.

So basically, the human race has lost. Setrakian is dead, Ephraim Goodweather is falling apart, Nora, Fet, and the others are left to try to pick up the pieces of the revolution as best they can, but things look grim. Only a really, really, REALLY desperate final plan has a chance to destroy The Master and save the human race.

So far I’m enjoying this. I always like a post apocalyptic spin, and Ephraim Goodweather’s fall from grace is a logical progression of his flawed character. I also like how the other characters continue to grow in the third installment. After all, this series is really about family (Seriously, forget about the vampires, everything everyone does in this book ties back to their family in some way). Even the vampires with their “dear ones” fall into the family theme.

At some point, however, the book goes off the rails. The action is gripping, the suspense nail-biting at times, the ick factor is still present, but as the group seeks out the origins of The Master in order to destroy it, the plot up and takes itself way off the reservation. I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, so I’m trying to decide on the best way to describe this without giving anything away. Suffice it to say this: that apparently having vampirism as a disease or literal wormy parasite is no longer cool or creepy enough. When we learn where The Master comes from, the authors threw in a huge curveball, and I, for one, was unimpressed. I found it way better when the explanation was “nature is a fucked up bitch sometimes.” The thought that there didn’t need to be an origin story, that this horrible thing arose from some primordial soup and was hurled against us by the forces of nature we’d prefer to ignore, THAT was scary. Because something like that could happen. By taking things where they did, the authors lessened the visceral fear that some monster plague (figurative) could come sweeping out of the sky in the form of a Boeing 777 and presage the end of the human race.

Ah well. In all, if you read the first two books of the series, you should still read this one, if only to complete the trilogy. But I’d lay odds that you’re going to come away a bit disappointed. There were a lot of good things in this book, but the origin story they ultimately came up with for The Master is disappointing enough that it more or less overshadows everything else in the book. If you haven’t read the series, and are reading this review anyway (shame on you), don’t let this review stop you from picking up the first two books in the series. They’re some of the best vampire fiction to come out in the past few years (no one sparkles, bonus!).

 

 

Book Review: Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

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Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Fair Warning: This book is the second in the Borden Dispatches series, and so this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for the first book.

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Thirty years have passed since the events of Maplecroft. Emma Borden is dead, as is the good doctor Seabury. The town of Fall River is quiet and peaceful, and Lizzie Borden (now going by Lizbeth Andrew) has settled into quiet infamy with a great many cats.

But a new celestial threat is rising in Birmingham, Alabama of all places. A shadowy group calling themselves The True Americans, supported by a strange new church known as Chapelwood, is looking to cleanse Birmingham of its undesirables, namely blacks, Jews, Catholics, and those who don’t want to see the world end screaming in the tentacles of an Elder God.

Called in by her old aquaintance Inspector Simon Wolf to help solve the murder of a local priest, which may or may not be tied into the nighttime activity of an ax-murderer known as Harry the Hacker, Lizzie Borden must shoulder her ax once more to defeat a cosmic evil growing strong in the dark southern soil.

I began this series because I could not say no to a Lizzie Borden-Cthulhu mashup (who could?). The first book in the series was enjoyable (though with some tweaks to the mythos and to geography that irked me a bit). The second in the series is weaker, less cosmic horror, more plain old crappy human beings. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Ku Klux Klan as despotic bringers of the elder god apocalypse angle. That part of the story was done quite well, and should resonate with anyone who’s been following American politics recently. Though I will say that it made this book a bit of a dud when it comes to escapist fiction (but not entirely in a bad way).

In all, if you enjoyed the first book, this one is a different creature altogether, but still worth your time. New comers to the series should definitely start with the first book, both because that one is a bit more in the Lovecraftian style, and because you will be thoroughly lost if you try to start this series in the middle.