Trigger warnings: animal abuse and gore mentioned
So, I wish that I had seen the original cover because that would have answered some of my questions. Not all of them, oh heavens no, but a good lot of them. Like, what time period are we in? I asked myself this over and over because it was unabashedly unclear. With references to Dick Tracy, Lana Turner, and MTV – it could be anywhere from the 1930’s to 1990’s (let’s get real, after the 90’s there really wasn’t an MTV anymore). With kids going to the corner store to get a coke and ride around town, it sounds like the 1960’s. But in one instance, it makes fun of the 1950’s, as if it were an era from a hundred years ago. It is both in the past and in the future. It is a paradox!
Oh wait, here’s the original cover:
Okay, great. Late 80’s, early 90’s – got it. Poof, I’m there. And I’m deducing that it was written by an older person because, again, a nine year old boy doesn’t know what the hell a Dick Tracy is in the late 80’s-early 90’s (trust me, no one saw that film and everyone who has has long since blocked it from their memory).
Oh, what, you want to know about the book? Oh, yes, I should review it since I read it. Or rather, listened to it, via Audible. This is the Audible cover:
I have to say, it doesn’t do it any justice at all. Even for a book that I’m about to give two Cthulhus to, it deserves the original cover because it explains the book so much better and is just a beautiful image. It primes you for what the book is truly about and what to expect –
white people problems witchcraft.
There are a million characters, I’m going to narrow them down to three: Nancy, Lana, and Spiro.
Lana is the new girl in town, just moved from Texas after her mother’s messy divorce and work relocation. She is beautiful, but down-to-earth, and trying to find new friends while her mother resettles and her younger brother is a straight-up asshole. She is just the girl next door, literally.
Next door lives Spiro, a boy Lana’s age, with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He is shy, awkward, and horrendously bullied at school, regardless of his enormous stature. Growing up fatherless, his mother is cruel and archaic, punishing him for every imagined slight and then often neglecting him. He becomes infatuated with Lana, due to her kindness.
Nancy is a popular girl in the school, brash and unafraid of anything, she goes into the crypt one night of the local cursed family and finds a book. The local legends say that the family were witches and had sacrificed a baby to the devil for powers and immortality, and intrigued, Nancy begins to dabble with the book, to see if the rumors are true.
All three of their lives interweave when mysterious things around town keep happening – could Nancy be the cause of it? Or perhaps the family isn’t as dead as everyone thought?
Okay, first off, the beginning 3/4ths of this book are pretty uninteresting; it’s mainly setting up “character” where there just isn’t any. As stated, there are so many characters that it’s ridiculous, even the parents of the kids are introduced, and then other characters are introduced half-way in. It’s a mess. Honestly, a lot of it could have been cut down and wouldn’t be missed.
To boot, all of the characters (except for Lana) are awful, insufferable people. It’s hard to listen to them when they are moldy garbage people who are just as interesting as the little bits of toilet paper stuck to the tp roll. Lana is constantly surrounded by young men who want to sexually harass her, her brother who literally wants to ruin her life, and the clique-ish girls at the school. But at the same time, it’s hard to identify with her because we’re constantly reminded how utterly smoking hot she is.
Most of the reviews I’ve read love the first part and hate the second, or never even get to the second. The “second” is the last 1/4th and was infinitely better because it went bawls-to-the-walls insane and gory. Fowler is actually very good at writing gore and, hoo boy, there needed to be 80% more gore and spooky and 120% less talking about nothing and getting Cokes at the burger shop.
The gore is mostly body horror, but there’s plenty of animal murder (which a lot of people found offensive by the comments I read) and…I’m not sure how to put this…gross baby-making-type stuff. You could find it vulgar, I mostly just found it erring on the side of sexist (and yes, I know this was a lady writer). Eyeballs do explode. I found that delightful. I also was entertained when a character’s naughty-bits started “spraying blood all over the living room like an unmanned firehouse”.
There are a few clever ideas that I won’t let spoil the story but, lightly, I think how some of the demons manifest and are different characters would have been more terrific if better explored and savored. I always find demons as characters interesting; unfortunately, these were the typical, standard issue demons, which is almost ironic because there’s a point when someone does a bit with The Exorcist, and then Fowler just kind of copies it later. It would have been great to set up the human characters in the first part, slowly trickle the demons in with their own personalities so that we’re acquainted with them, and then go to the climax of the story with everything mixed.
Honestly, I think this would have worked better as a short story or novella. There was too much fluff to get to where we wanted and needed to be.
Brain Roll Juice:
I’m going to get this out of the way first because it didn’t sit well and now that I have a timeline I can say, “Don’t give me ‘it was just different times’ bull-hockey.” It was, indeed, different times. Different, racist and sexist times. But before those fun times, let’s get to that other thing stuck in my craw – the treatment of Spiro. And I’m not talking about the kids in the book.
Spiro has some kind of developmental and/or intellectual disability, brought on from when his mother contracted German measles/Rubella and he, in utero, suffered from encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). He is seventeen, over six feet and two hundred pounds, and physically and mentally abused by his peers, teachers, and mother. He is in the same classes without additional support as his peers. He is punished with detention for “daydreaming”. He is called “’Tardo” and “freak” within earshot of teachers and authority figures. He is often physically abused by his mother.
He also turns into a disgusting creep and is painted in so broad and stereotypical a brush that I found it offensive.
From “gentle giant” stereotype to “creeper of the only nice girl to me” stereotype to “snapping from repression” stereotype to “spoiler spoiler spoiler” stereotype. There isn’t anything clever or sincere about the character and that chips my paint. He is the only diverse character in the whole bunch and he has absolutely nothing of substance to say or do. I was furious because I was excited to see a rare neuro-diverse character in horror as, what I thought, was a lead role (the first chapter starts with him – he introduces the story), or at least a sympathetic role.
And no, that ending doesn’t factor in. Without going into details, let’s just say that his send off was very similar to the classic moment in TV history:
The same sentiment can be said with the wildly racist comments that drop out of flipping nowhere, like, “that’s why Japanese people’s eyes are slanted…all the books they read”, “Is an African’s hair kinky?” (used like “does a bear sh– in the woods?”), and “ghetto blaster” as a sobriquet for a boombox. Or the introduction to the only black character at the end of the book that actually calls his peers, “chillun”.
Poor Michael Reaves, the narrator, for having to cough out these lines and make the best out of it. He’s even had to narrate a gastric sleeve cookbook and probably had a better time with that.
But let’s take a look back – this was published in 1992. The year that Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel into space; that the Kentucky Supreme Court held that laws criminalizing same-sex sodomy are unconstitutional (and accurately predicted that other states and the nation would eventually rule the same way); and a TWO full years after Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was signed into law.
So, what am I saying? I’m saying that you’re right. The times were different and changing. This book has aged and will continue to do so. Even if this is just a pulp horror novel, it’s also a time capsule. I can read this and watch a movie like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and see how far our narrative focus has changed. Call it SJW-appeasement or diversity-pandering, but it has changed. It’s no longer just 311 pages filled with average high school melodrama with occasional exploding eyeballs, but showing new facets from new perspectives to keep the same stories we keep telling each other fresh and engaging to more people.
And that leads me to wonder, what would these characters look like now? How would we react to them? How would they change the narrative if they were written today? And do people even know who Dick Tracy is anymore?
If you like gore, it’s drudgery to get through the first part. If you like character development, there isn’t much of any. If you like late-80’s to early-90’s nostalgia…I’d still advise against it. It’s not great and aged even worse. (2 / 5)
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.