I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those books that was very obviously independently published, even before I started reading it. So, I received a book titled “Dark God: Ascending”. Naturally, I go to look up the book on Goodreads real fast to add it to my reading list, but it’s not coming up. The original e-mail did have an Amazon link, so I go there to figure out what’s up, and I see “Calhoun: Sacrifice”. What? So I looked it up again and it’s under a completely different title, and I had to read the summary to make sure it was the same book.
I’m not mad about a title change or anything, but it can be pretty jarring when you try to look up a book.
So, this book. It’s about a cult that blackmails people into kidnapping a child for them. If they don’t, then their own child will be kidnapped. How many times they’ve tried this is unclear. I’m not sure if they’ve only started this recently, or if they’ve been trying to do this for a long time and it never worked out the way they wanted.
The overall plot is something that can work out fine for a book. There were some things that seemed inconsistent, like when Calhoun visits an old army buddy and his wife starts talking about going to a ceremony. When you get to the end of the book, the ceremony doesn’t seem to actually exist. For whatever they’re actually doing, there’s about two people there and a little girl in a house, so where was that wife planning on taking her husband? But, it wasn’t really the plot that bothered me.
It was the characters. I don’t think I liked a single character in this book. They were all unpleasant. The main character, James Calhoun, is a former soldier who lost his legs to an explosion and had his fingers replaced with his toes. You will never forget this, the book will remind you constantly. Though, oddly, sometimes side characters seem to fail to notice this.
Now, I have no problem with the main character being a disabled army vet, that can make for a great main character. Unfortunately, I just found him to be someone I would never want to be around. Right from the start he was grating on my nerves. His ex-wife calls him to tell him that her husband is dead. He’s pretty callous about that, but she convinces him to come over by telling him it has to do with his daughter, Betty, and she does mention ‘some men’, which clearly implies that it wasn’t a natural death.
For some reason the entire time he keeps thinking they’re playing a trick on him. Nothing about their characters ever shows that they’re the type of people who would waste their time doing this. So he goes over, his ex-wife is in shambles, and he notices they updated the pictures around their house and tells her they’ll “have to update them again”. To a woman who clearly just lost her husband maybe an hour ago or something.
I actually made a note here that even though her husband is dead, she’s scared and she’s mentioned ‘men’, he doesn’t seem all that concerned about his daughter, Betty. For some reason he continues thinking this is all an elaborate hoax for an extended amount of time. He watches her breaking down and drinking and he thinks it’s all about them playing a prank on him. She shows him leftover body parts of her husband and he still thinks it’s a joke.
I was boggled at how long he thought this was a prank. He gets the initial call in chapter 2. In chapter 5 he’s still talking about how she must be messing with him. He’s also extremely judgemental. Some sort of cult is threatening to take his daughter unless he delivers another little girl to them. He’s horrified that anyone would ever consider doing such a thing, even as he goes and does it himself, and is critical of Rhonda (his ex-wife) and her husband.
I should note that Rhonda is being blackmailed into doing this because she borrowed about $14,000. Now, that’s a lot of money to most of us, but I would like to mention that they never even considered the possibility of selling the house or anything.
I don’t think Calhoun has a single positive relationship. I can’t even include his relationship with his daughter because the two girls in this aren’t thinking people. At one point they’re openly discussing that James has to do something in order to save “their child” in front of Betty, their only child. Betty asks what they’re talking about and they give her a drink. Because she isn’t a thinking person, she doesn’t eavesdrop or anything. She goes to watch TV and actually watches the TV.
The other girl, Sarah, doesn’t fair any better. I forget how old the book said she was. I think it was 8 or something, but for much of the book I thought she was around five. She also doesn’t think. When she’s kidnapped, she gets taken to an island. A women there starts offering her hot cocoa and such, and she starts skipping along with her after a minute. This is after a strange man kidnapped her, locked her in a car, drove her for hours locked in a little space, handed her over to some other strange guy, and then she was transported by boat. I don’t think she’d be skipping.
Later on the house is on fire, and she decides it’s the time to try and have a conversation with Calhoun. While they’re still in the house that’s on fire. She doesn’t respond to things, she just repeats things that have been determined as her characteristics. “Where’s Mummy?” is a big one that she continuously asks, as well as mentioning Bryon who is a singer or something. Also, she doesn’t like wearing a nightie, and for some reason keeps forgetting she’s wearing a nightie and asks why she’s wearing it. But, basically, the kids act like kid stereotypes and not like people, and don’t react appropriately to things happening around them.
Young people can perceive the world in a funny way, we all know this. A niece of mine thought that when her family was going to fly to another country, she thought they were literally going to flap their arms and fly there. She was about three. That stuff happens. But kids are also curious about the world around them and can figure things out. There’s a lot of missed potential with these two characters (Betty, Calhoun’s daughter, and Sarah, the girl who is kidnapped) because conglomeration of a few chosen traits and nothing else.
Imagine this: Instead of Betty staring blankly at a TV, she eavesdrops on the rest of her parents’ conversation. She determines that she’s in danger, and, because she’s a thinking person, thinks maybe she should run away. Like all kids she packs the essentials to run away (favorite stuffed animal, maybe a snack) and attempts to save herself by hiding. Now she’s a person who is actually doing things. She cares about what is happening around her, not just her few chosen interests.
Or, imagine this: Calhoun is there to rescue Sarah. The house is on fire and there are bodies around. All Sarah knows it that Calhoun is the man who initially kidnapped her (or she should know, she seems not to think about this much when the fire scene happens, and she never asks about it). So, she runs away from him. Maybe she goes outside or she stays inside, but either way she knows she has to defend herself against this man – especially if she happens to see any of the bodies that were supposed to be lying around (she never seemed to notice any of these bodies in the book. I’m not sure how she missed them). She tries to find hiding places or weapons, or attempts to escape from the house and hide somewhere outside.
Now she’s a girl who is having some sort of reaction to the fact that the house is on fire, and everyone but her and the man who kidnapped her are dead. Instead, in the book she runs downstairs, hits her head, promptly seems to forget everything and has a conversation with Calhoun. She stops reacting to the fact that he was the man who originally kidnapped her, stops being concerned about the fire, everything. She asks about her “mum” multiple times, asks about Bryon, asks why she’s in a nightie…
And that’s the problem I had with the girls.
Back to Calhoun. Back when Calhoun originally kidnaps the girl, they tell him that if he hadn’t handed her over willingly they wouldn’t have what they needed. Calhoun decides that it was all for nothing. If no one had handed over Sarah, and no one had been willing to hand over Betty, everyone would be safe. For some reason he forgets these people could have done something anyway. Even if they couldn’t have used Betty for their ceremony, they still could have hurt him or his family just to prove a point or get back at him. I don’t know why he thought they couldn’t do anything outside of kidnapping a girl for their ceremony.
Because of how large the cult seems to be, Calhoun doesn’t trust the police or anyone he runs into. Instead he visits an old army friend (Graham) to gear so he can save Sarah. The army friend’s wife turns out to be part of the cult and holds them both up with a shotgun. Calhoun shoots her, which seems to cause her to shoot Graham. He has very little reaction to his friend getting killed. He barely seems to even care that the guy is only dead because he showed up.
Then it just gets worse. He needs a ride to get to the lakes, because Sarah is on an island there. A Muslim man stops to give him a ride. They then act racist towards each other, as Aziz won’t stop talking about Calhoun being an African being taken from Africa, even though Calhoun is clearly uninterested. He also refuses to stop preaching to him. Calhoun, in turn, talks about shooting towelheads in Iraq.
He then goes to a bus stop, and an old man walks up and starts haranguing him about not having a job. Even though he’s missing a good portion of his body. At this point I was confused why every stranger he met was deciding to give him a lecture on life.
Eventually, he gets to the lakes, where one of the hitmen who is supposed to keep him from getting to Sarah is ordering a pizza. Then this conversation happens:
“Raise your hands and don’t make any sudden moves.” James said.
Stephen’s eyes widened in surprise, his mind racing.
“Calhoun?” He said.
James frowned “How did you…oh you’re one of them.”
“The term is gay.”
What? I have no idea what being gay had to do with the conversation. Two of the hitmen are lovers, which is fine. Calhoun kills this guy, and while he’s dying Calhoun mentions that they’re killing a kid. He tells Calhoun to “Tell Mike”, clearly indicating that if ‘Mike’ knew what they were doing he wouldn’t be okay with it.
When he gets to the island and Mike is unarmed and caught in a boobytrap, what does he say?
“Guy on the boat, Stephen, he had a message for Mike.”
“What did he say?”
“What did he say?”
“Dunno, he died before he could say it.”
Then he shoots him. I can understand him not wanting to trust any of these guys, but he had a clear indicator that Mike might very well be against the cult if he found out that they were killing a child. He doesn’t even try to tell him and see what happens. It goes nowhere.
There’s also so much description of Calhoun taking his prosthetics on and off that I eventually made a note of it. It’s not one sentence. It’ll be large, bulky paragraphs. Calhoun takes them off. Puts them in his sack. He takes them out of his sack. He puts them back on and pulls his trousers up. He takes them off and puts them in his sack… I wish I had counted how often this was mentioned, but it’s all the time.
The last thing I want to mention is that there are a lot of errors. Many are small:
She sounded scared, he voice like…
Or at least try to make it right. .
…on the closed lid,, sighing…
…he would as likely allowed the sacrifice to happen as try and prevent it.
Than man was going in to shock,.
Other times, I couldn’t tell what it was trying to say:
She squealed when her foot pressed in to her sick and hit at his hands to make him let go.
…it was familiar, like a ? Her head throbbed, the pain pushing the thought away.
All in all, the book was a bit of a drag for me to read, mostly because I didn’t like anyone in it. I didn’t care if he succeeded or not. I didn’t particularly hate it. I think it needs a lot of work. It looks like I got a rough draft.
I give it a 4/10.