I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a short story, only about 12,000 words, so this will probably be a fairly short review.
That said, I really liked this story. The Prologue didn’t catch me. It’s only two pages, but I thought there were too many questions in the narrative in it (“When the mind-shattering images manifest with claws and teeth and repressed emotions, what good is a blade or axe? If the power we possess could subdue it, would we not have slain it in our sleep, when all the world’s laws and possibilities were at our command” etc etc).
However, that was a short part, and I really liked the first chapter – or “Part 4”, as it’s labeled. I think the dialogue between the boy and the woman is done very well, with the boy being a skeptic and demanding logic, and the woman having seen horrors and insisting that there are things people don’t yet understand, but they exist regardless of our understanding them or not. Both of their opinions make sense for their characters.
Now, the story is sort of told backwards, with the first chapter being the end and the last chapter being the start. I glanced at some reviews beforehand and knew this was going to happen, and I wasn’t sure how well it would work. I think it worked for the most part, perhaps because it is a short enough story that you’re only piecing together a few chapters. If it was much longer it would probably get too confusing.
One thing it did do was that I got confused about which character was in one of the chapters. At first I thought it was ‘the leader’, but when I double checked I realized she was someone else. Because names are often avoided in a lot of it, and it’s so short that characters only have a small amount of time, it was an easy mix-up to make.
Even so, in their brief moments I did feel something for the characters. Cynthia, for example, only appears in one chapter and dies during it, so we have very little time with her. However, the way she acts in that brief time says a lot about her. I did feel bad that she died. Taj, on the other hand didn’t get quite as much so I didn’t feel as bad about that one.
I think where the story excels is in creating terrifying situations for the characters. There really is a feeling that they have little chance of escape. Sometimes I couldn’t quite picture what was happening. For example, the leader where’s a strange helmet that’s mentioned a lot, but I’m not sure exactly what it looked like. There was something about it having a ridiculously long neck and two faces. It left me having a little trouble imagining what she looked like.
I can understand why that would happen in a book like this. When you’re trying to describe something nightmarish, something that wouldn’t really make sense, it can be hard to express it in a way that would give everyone a clear image without going into a tedious amount of details, so I chalked it up to, “she has a weird helmet” and continued on. But for the most part, I think it did a good job of dropping the reader into an improbable world with characters we would barely know, and then creating an intense situation. It was able to take something as simple as “a woman is following me” and make it scary. Not every single one worked for me – I don’t find stalagmites that frightening – but I could get what it was going for and some others might find stalagmites forming into the shape of a mouth unnerving.
I think the author could expand a lot on this concept. Right now it looks like this is his first time publishing, and I really enjoyed it. I hope he does do some more. I like a good horror and I like fantasy/medieval settings, and this was a nice mixture of both for me. And, for people looking for it, for what short time they had, I felt it had a strong set of female characters, too.
It kept me fascinated throughout, so I’m going to give it a 10/10.