More often than not I’ve had positive experiences with reading novels published by DarkFuse and that can be a bad thing. I hold DarkFuse novels to a higher standard than other small press-published novels since I trust that if the company has delivered in the past, it’ll always deliver. It’s an unfair standard, I admit, but I don’t think I’m unique in my views. If you were to ask other book lovers/book reviewers about their automatic buy books (you know, the ones that they will buy even before they know anything about the book based on who its author is or who published it), I’m sure others would tell you the same thing. Because DarkFuse is a company that I adore, that’s why I’m so disappointed in Sacrifice Island. It’s decent in the respect that there is a creature and there’s heavy supernatural elements directly relating to that creature and therefore it’s fun, but it’s not “Oh my god!” incredible. On its own terms that would rank Sacrifice Island as a decent read that after much hemming and hawing I would tell you all that in spite of its flaws, you have to read it at some point because it’s fun. The problem is, I expected more from a DarkFuse novel.
Sacrifice Island is about a not-a-couple couple, Alex and Jemma, who are travel writers with a focus on the world’s most haunted places. This article they are writing is for the last chapter of their soon-to-be-published book Spirits Around the World and they heard rumors of strange happenings on a secret island near Palawan in the Philippines. Little do they know that the stories of tourists who traveled to the island and didn’t return alive or at all were occurring during the writing of their book and they are at risk the moment they step on Palawan. Without spoiling the more exciting points of Sacrifice Island, let’s just say that there is truth to the rumors. Palawan is a tourist destination that seems like a fun up-and-coming alternative to cliched vacation spots with nothing sinister behind it, but the secret island’s name (Sakripisiyuhin Island) should be as much of a red flag to readers as it is to Alex. The two travel writers find that the more they research the secret island, the more in danger they are of becoming like all of the other victims. Ooh, spooky! Well, sort of.
One thing I genuinely liked about Sacrifice Island was that it introduced me to a new type of supernatural creature. I am not familiar with Filipino folklore so I love that I get to learn about a country’s stories and legends while reading horror fiction. So, what exactly is this creature? Alex explained in a succinct-ish overview that the creature on the island is an aswang, a vampire-like creature that kills a person’s physical body for food and then eats their ghosts as well. Kristin Dearborn has a brief article after her story that details more about the aswang, which is quite interesting. Apologies to anyone who is of Filipino origin should I get any of this wrong, by the way. Also, please feel free to contact Dearborn and set her straight. Disclaimer over, let’s talk about this particular aswang. According to Dearborn, the aswang is a usually female vampiric human/monster shapeshifting creature. It would traditionally be able to fly but her specific creation needed to be trapped on Sacrifice Island so she took liberties with the folklore by taking that ability away. Nowhere does she mention about the aswang being able to eat the ghosts of people it killed, but she does say that it likes to eat the newly dead. I would not mind reading more novels about this creature because it sounds way more interesting than the vampire character from European lore. I wouldn’t even mind if Dearborn wrote a follow-up novel that goes more in depth on the aswang. Unfortunately, Dearborn knows much more about this creature than what she includes in this novel and the absence of information is noticeable.
Now I have to discuss the obligatory “Dear god, why DarkFuse, why?” aspect of this book. Sacrifice Island was all about the absence of information. I would assume that the intention is to add to reader suspense, but that’s not the result of it all. I had questions that distracted me from the reading. These are some of my major questions:
- If Jemma was so sensitive to the supernatural (ghosts in particular), wouldn’t she have been sensitive to the aswang’s precense from the beginning? There’s no excuse for the author to leave out the explanation for how Jemma can sense certain aspects but not others. As a reader who is open-minded about the supernatural, I would believe it’s possible to have limitations. In my fiction, I want the character to be developed enough that I know why they have these limitations.
- In the end of the novel, Jemma becomes an aswang while the former aswang (named Virginia) dies. To Kristin Dearborn’s credit, there is explanation for how a human can become an aswang that involves a transference ritual. It was never clear in the novel how Virginia and Jemma do that transfer. All readers know for sure is that immediately after, Jemma becomes a hungry entity that wants to punish tourists to Sacrifice Island by means of eating them.
- Jemma’s travel writing partner Alex dies right before she becomes the new aswang. Who serves as Jemma’s “keeper” (essentially the human that will deliver tourists to her)? It made sense that Terry would be Virginia’s keeper since they were married for a long time but would Terry do it for a woman he didn’t know well?
DarkFuse novels don’t usually leave me hanging. I think it’s even worse with Sacrifice Island because Kristin Dearborn doesn’t have any follow-up novels to it so we’re left wondering all of these things with no satisfactory conclusion. I know that movies and TV shows are fans of cliffhangers, but it really is different when the product is a novel.
Instead of giving you all an official recommendation, I’m just going to leave this “Boo, DarkFuse!” review here and we’ll see what you all think.