Have you ever counted the days before a book will be released and you’re so excited you feel personally offended that the publishing company doesn’t release it earlier? I had been waiting at least two months for Evil Little Things by Matt Shaw and yes, I felt like giving readers the synopsis of the already-written book but not pushing it out sooner was a personal insult. When I finally downloaded the Kindle e-book, I thought all the waiting would be worth it. Well, it depends on why Evil Little Things seemed appealing and if you felt it delivered. I…wasn’t impressed like I thought I would be.
Evil Little Things is a demonic possession novella, sort of. An unmarried couple and their two children move to an inexpensive house that doesn’t seem quite right. Crista, the mother, was creeped out from the first day of living in the house when she and her partner Matt had a conversation only she could remember and her two daughters Ava and Aria had conversations with invisible entities. As the novel progresses, Crista’s sanity is called into question. She tells Matt that her children look like eyeless ghosts, she hears loud noises when there should be silence, her children are in multiple places at once, and she grows teeth where she shouldn’t. He responds that it’s all in her head and she needs psychiatric help. Ultimately Crista can’t handle living with the demonic entity and checks out in a bloody way, leaving the house to the demon. In the epilogue, we learn that *SPOILERS* Matt is possessed by the demon so that he can drive Crista to suicide and then raise Ava and Aria as recruits in the demon leader’s army. *END SPOILERS*
The epilogue is actually solid. If Matt Shaw decided to write a series about the demon army, he would have me as a guaranteed reader. This is when it’s confirmed that even as Crista loses her sanity and becomes unreliable, there is one main demon and the possibilities of more demons. That confirmation solves a problem with the bulk of the story, which I will explain in the next paragraph. The only thing that would improve the epilogue is if it didn’t jump from the omniscient narrator to the demon talking in first person. It was jarring, to say the least. Even so, I do recommend pushing through the novella to reach this part.
The story leading up to the epilogue was not terrible, but I admit to being disappointed. Crista was meant to be a sympathetic character but she was much too short-tempered and vain to be likable or at least pitied. If people around her didn’t buy into whatever she believed at the moment (whether it was that she felt old or she had evidence that the house was haunted) she would get short with them and take out that frustration on innocent people around her. The worst thing about Crista was that even after she knew she had an evil entity attached to her and the house, she engaged with others who weren’t protected from the demon and passed it on to them as well. Her partner’s friends Gabe and Melissa didn’t need to be dragged into the possession (and the novella); Their only purpose was to add to the body count. When every character was terrible in different ways, there was nobody worth cheering for. Another problem, also related to Crista, was that the more she experienced the demon’s presence and activities the less credible she seemed. I honestly felt like she could’ve benefited from a therapy session, it not to be diagnosed then at least to sort out the supernatural problems from her personality problems. Until the epilogue confirmed that there was a horde of demons out for recruits, this could’ve been a psychological novella. I love literature that challenges reality vs. the mind’s power, but I wanted Evil Little Things to be strictly supernatural. I only read to the end because this was a book I had once been so excited about. Author Matt Shaw can still tell a good story and I will still recommend him when I come across good work, but Evil Little Things pre-epilogue is not one I recommend.
I love a good cannibal serial killer novel. You’d be surprised to learn that although I’m not a “gore hound” and in fact would rather read supernatural or psychological thriller novels, there is something I crave about a good cannibal serial killer horror novel. It kills me to admit that in spite of having the potential for a delicious cannibal serial killer novel, I did not love Consumed by author Matt Shaw. This is the best way I can describe Consumed: It was disturbing as promised, but not disturbing in the way I like my cannibal serial killer novels disturbing.
The plot is pretty standard. Five twenty-somethings who were once good friends but are beginning to fall apart go on a road trip in hopes of rebuilding their friendship. The main character is Michael, an aimless, hard-headed person. Michael’s best friend is Joel, an auto mechanic (oh, the irony!) who would smoke his life away if he could. Lara is a sharp-tongued woman who had once dated Joel and still feels the burn of their break-up. Hayley is a beauty queen who is so consumed (pun not intended but rock with it) with how she compares to other women that she doesn’t notice larger issues. Charlotte is a sweetheart who should not even be a part of the group and is viewed as a little sister that needs protected from the real world. Dan is just there, not someone who had a role other than being the first to die. The road trip doesn’t start off well with Lara and Joel bickering and continues to get worse when the car breaks down and they are rescued by two twenty-something brothers Johnny and Stephen who take them to the family house for a meal. Little do the five friends know that they’re the main course.
There are scenes of cannibalism in the novel, which I appreciated since that was why I wanted to read this book in the first place. Descriptions of a young woman eating a man during intercourse is sick and twisted, just the way I want my cannibal serial killer novels. What, I can’t enjoy a little bit of gore? In addition, there were entire pages dedicated to how some of the characters were sliced and diced. If you like details rather than fade-to-black sequences, Consumed is your book. Maybe.
How do you feel about incest? How do I put this without requiring a trigger warning? To put it bluntly, there is a lot of incest. None of it is fade-to-black either. It’s not as frequent or physically sickening as scenes in another extreme horror novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One), the novel that I hold up as the sickest extreme horror novel I’ve read to date, but reading the descriptions of father-on-daughter violence feels voyeuristic and wrong. The problem with Consumed is that it should be the cannibalism that turns your stomach but in fact the incest is (I’m guessing) the reason this novel is considered extreme horror. I’ll ask you again, how do you feel about incest? Do you believe incest can carry a horror novel from beginning to end? Do you believe that incest is a ploy to make the villainous characters more sympathetic, even if there’s nothing else about them that is sympathetic? This may just be a personal concern, but I don’t think the way incest was written in Consumed was well-handled. Conventional wisdom says that you aren’t supposed to root for the villainous characters at any point of the novel. It was hard trying to negotiate the conventional wisdom with what the daughters suffered from their entire lives. Suzanne and Tammy, the daughters, are almost as into cannibalism as their parents. As readers, we shouldn’t like them. When they are raped by their father, we still don’t like them but we see them as victims and it’s just weird. Consumed would’ve been a stronger novella if the author left out the incest and just let us hate the family.
I have a lot of thoughts on Consumed, but I think author Matt Shaw’s author note placed right before the story says much more than I could say. Apparently Consumed isn’t even Matt Shaw’s normal style of writing. He had been receiving feedback from readers about them wanting some serious gore and rocked with it. His attempt with Consumed satisfied the extreme horror fans enough that the majority of ratings for the novella were overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not okay with it. I like Matt Shaw’s writing when it’s psychological (ex: Clown) or supernatural (ex: The Cabin and The Cabin: Asylum). I would normally recommend Matt Shaw. I will probably recommend some of his future works once I get ahold of them. I do not recommend Consumed.