I may have given up on supernatural/demon horror novels completely if not for The Many (The End is Nigh). After hitting many dead ends in these horror sub-genres that I used to crave, I had the unpleasant thought that nobody was writing anything good and I needed to move on. When I move on from sub-genres, it’s not permanent but when I return I have decreased enthusiasm and patience. Thank you Joe Stone for writing an exciting supernatural/demon horror novel and giving me renewed hope!
The Many is an ensemble novel in which we are first introduced to four characters with separate but related stories until all four meet each other and share the same story. Usually I wouldn’t recommend this style of writing because I can’t keep track of what events happened to what character, but in The Many the four characters are distinctive enough to remember who and what is happening overall. The four characters are Tommy (a high school student with no luck in getting the girls), Jason (a man with close ties to his mother), Amy (a married woman in search of other men), and Nick (a police officer). A recommendation: Follow Amy’s story the closest because she starts and ends the book. These four characters witness different aspects of the demonic virus but the thing they share is that the entities get into their heads and taunt them about their secret sins as a way to (attempt to) possess them.
By now you’re probably curious about this demonic virus. It’s not fully explained in the novel, but that just means we’ll have something to look forward to in the sequel. From what I understand, it has something to do with Lou Parsons and his grudge against the Lenton, Massachussetts community’s priest. Lou Parsons either summons demons or is a demon himself and his goal is to take over the community and make it his. His method is to use powerful body-hacking, landscape-changing demons to take over “regular” people’s bodies while he works on influencing Tommy, Jason, Amy, and Nick to do his most important work (which involves killing the priest). By the end of this book, Lou Parson’s reach has extended from Lenton to all over Massachussetts.
I said it in multiple places of this review and I’ll say it again, reading The Many was such a relief. It has elements of other pre/post-apocalyptic novels such as the world being normal one day and spiraling out of control the next and that the cause of the apocalypse is supernatural, but hen it offers a twist. The creatures have zombie-like qualities such as feasting on human innards and flesh, but they’re not zombies and they have more of a sense of consciousness. This is much more unnerving than reading about mindless flesh-eaters. I like that by the end of the novel, I was excited for the next book because I have no idea what direction it’s going to take. Sometimes predictability is comforting, but I don’t read the horror genre to be comforted. I like that I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Since I’m excited and that hasn’t happened for a while, I feel safe in saying that if you are also a fan of supernatural/demon horror but you’re in a reading slump, you really should give The Many a chance. If you do, let me know what you think!
Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed? The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me. It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted. The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel. 1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then. The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.
The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims. The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to. There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.
One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving. I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?” Simply put, it’s the opposite. To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling. The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened. The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives. This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example. This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive. If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.
Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror. As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated. To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.
“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”
Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”. I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there. The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit. When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”. The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!” These are little moments of writing that eventually add up. Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing. I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier. One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.
After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it. I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay” and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.
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.
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.
Usually I would be posting about an entire website or horror reading material (book or magazine) but I think the article “Haunted House Myths Confirmed and Debunked ” written by author Carly Ledbetter for the Huffington Post is totally worth reading. I implore you to avoid the comments because some people are such thick-headed skeptics that they blow off the article by yelling “Science! Science! Science!” Did you know that science hasn’t been able to prove or deny the existence of spirits because the occurings, even residual hauntings, don’t conform to the scientific method? When one studies the supernatural, there has to be an alternative way to approach it because supernatural experiences don’t happen on a time table. Until scientists learn to get over the traditional scientific method to study the existence or lack of the supernatural, they are irrelevant in the discussion. As such, if you’re interested in this article, read the article but avoid the comments. The interview was conducted with a ghost hunted who drew some interesting conclusions about hauntings that I think everyone can get behind (even skeptics who are not thick-headed).
Carly Ledbetter sat down with paranormal expert John E.L. Tenney, star of a new TV show called Ghost Stalkers on the channel Destination America and asked him about six of the most common occurrences during a haunting/”haunting”. Of the six, the only two that he confirmed in his career were “You’ve felt someone tap on your shoulder when no one is there” and “You suddenly smell the perfume of a loved one”. Neither of these sound particularly terrifying. I actively follow true ghost stories online and neither of these events are mentioned at all. These so-called true stories involve violent events after encountering an entity. They’re interesting and unnerving, which is why I keep coming back, but for the “real deal” on hauntings I trust Tenney’s judgment over strangers on the internet.
One point that Tenney makes that boggles my mind is when he says the report “People have died in the house” is false. He explains that most houses have had at least one death and the death of anyone doesn’t automatically mean there will be a haunting. I don’t want to disagree too vehemently but how come I, the least supernaturally sensitive person in the world, have seen my first-ever cat (a tortoiseshell named Susie) in two separate incidents within a month after her death? I don’t believe that it’s the house that is haunted, which I guess is what he dances around outright staying. If you’ve watched any modern supernatural horror movie that deals with a haunting, you’ve probably heard “Ghosts haunt people” or related statements. The idea is that no matter where a person moves, they won’t be able to shake the ghost because the ghost is connected to them. Keep in mind, my old tortie was a sweetheart, not an evil, angry ghost like you see in the movies. If she happened to check up on me once in a while, I don’t think it would be the worst thing that could happen. In that respect, I agree with Tenney that it’s not the house that’s haunted. However, I think that the death of a person (or an animal, such as my first-ever tortie) would encourage an appearance of their ghost at some point. Tenney would’ve made an even stronger point had he thoroughly explained what he means by a death in the house not automatically being a trigger for hauntings.
The thing I found most interesting about this article is how Tenney explains the hauntings he’s investigated in his experience. He said that up to 98% were attributed to “normal” causes but he still believes he could encounter a haunting. That unexplained 2% is enough to make it a possibility. I appreciate that he knows hauntings aren’t as widespread or violent as media makes them out to be, but he still keeps an open mind. Check out the list for yourself and see what you think!