Duncan P. Bradshaw “Hexagram” Review

Posted: August 15, 2016 in Reviews, Uncategorized
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BOOK INFO

Length: 232 Pages

Publisher: EyeCue Productions/The Sinister Horror Company 

Release Date: July 25, 2016

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour for Hexagram

I have heard a lot of great things about Duncan Bradshaw’s work and the independent publishing company he helped found, The Sinister Horror Company, so I was excited to join the blog tour for his latest novel Hexagram. Hexagram is an interesting novel because it is made up of six distinct stories that take place over many centuries. The novel starts off with a prologue of sorts that is ironically titled, Journey’s End. This opening features a father and his young daughter making a perilous climb up the side of a mountain, racing to the summit for something. There is green vapor swirling around the top and as their energy starts to fade, they wonder if they will ever reach the top.  Behind them, they can hear sounds of torment and claws down below which helps them press forward. When they reach the top, they see other groups of people who made the same journey watching the stars too.

This beginning is kind of confusing, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine it starting any other way. It helped me invest in the story because I had so many unanswered questions swirling in my head like “Where are these people from?” and “What is the significance of the journey?” It mentions they had to survive a journey and six trials to get there and I would have loved to hear about those sections! The little girl asks her father which star is hers and he replies for her to be patient, it is yet to be born. With that, Bradshaw begins to take readers on a windy, joy ride that spans centuries and offers a look at a variety of different situations and people. The easiest way to talk about Hexagram is to take a look at each individual sections, so I broke down what I liked about each section and then added my thoughts on the novel as a whole at the end.

Cuzco, former Inca Empire March 4, 1538

The first story opens with a man named Matias, who is wasted and on his way to his barracks after a night on the town. Stumbling home after a night with Palla, he runs into a group of mysterious priests who knock him out. When he wakes up, he is tied up in a cave with the priests preparing him for some sort of ritual. He is restrained and after they anoint him with a greasy liquid, the horrific ritual begins. Bradshaw displays a lot of great detail in this ritual scene and readers can feel the terror Matias experiences in the cave. Bradshaw makes readers cringe with simple, descriptive lines like, “Further waves of pain washed over him as nodules of bone were scored and clusters of dense nerve endings severed”. It is lines like these that prove Bradshaw definitely isn’t going to shy away from violence and there are plenty of gruesome scenes here that will appeal to readers who don’t mind a little blood and gore in their horror.

In the midst of the sacrifice, there is a battle of ideologies that unfolds between two priests in the religious order, Poma and Amaru. They share the goal of raising the sun-god Inti, to use against the conquistadors, but they have differing opinions on what tactics to use. Poma only wants to sacrifice pure Inca people, but Amaru insists his way is faster,  and will also get them revenge against those who have come to their land and destroyed everything they hold dear.

Rodrigo Quintaro is the leader of conquistadors and he is shocked when his men find Matias, completely hollowed out, hanging from a belfry at Santo Domingo. Despite there calls for blood and vengeance, Rodrigo does not want to go on a war path as he only cares about one thing – his quest for El Dorado and grabbing up as much gold as he can. Unfortunately, it is this greed that leads Rodrigo and his men into a deadly showdown that sets off a chain of events that will last for centuries.

While Hexagram may sort of seem like a mash-up of a few genres, there is no denying this is a horror novel. One of my favorite scenes in this story is when one Incans were sacrificed and should have been dead, she sits bolt upright and screams. Had this been a movie, I probably would have rocketed out of my seat! There are also some truly awesome fight scenes between the conquistadors and priests as they go back and forth trying to kill each other off. This is a great story to kick off the collection and there is hardly a dull moment.

Presidio Santa Maria de Galve Pensacola, Florida 1716

This story is written in a confessional style format from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is accused of horrific crimes. He was the captain of a ship that was tasked with retrieving treasure from the new world, but the ship went through a terrible storm that killed a lot of his men and left them stranded in the new world. While this story ultimately picks up steam later on, I thought it started off kind of slow.

After a few days spent adjusting to their surroundings, the stranded sailors took to living in caves and there is now only 37 of them out of the 112 that originally worked on the ship. They are barely clinging to life when they begin getting attacked by the Native Americans, who impale the head of one of the crew on a spike to send a message. The crew has been living in caves and the fear of suffering more gruesome displays of violence begins to drive them crazy. The natives psychologically torture the narrator and his men and when they finally come face to face, the leader of the native presents them with the scalps of his men, setting the stage for war. The war ultimately leads the narrator to find information about the rituals introduced earlier in the novel and allows this knowledge to consume him.

This story marks one mans descent into madness and depravity as he begins to enjoy the carnage he inflicts. This seems to be what the knowledge does, slowly driving people over the edge. That is what makes this version of events so chilling is this man went from an average sailor to someone whose very sanity has melted away and caused him to commit horrific acts.

While this story did start off a little slow, once the sailors clash with the natives, the story really kicks into high gear. The fighting in this story is savage and features some of the bloodiest scenes in the novel. I mean, there is literally a scene where Native American warriors repel down a ridge on the entrails of their enemies! Bradshaw also uses military strategy to help bring these battles to life.

Kolb’s Farm, Cobb County, Georgia Civil War 1864

This is the story of a Confederate soldier named Rusty, who is wounded in a horrific battle at Kolb’s Farm that sees most of his friends and fellow soldiers torn to shreds. As he lies injured on the battlefield, he can’t help but think of the memories of his childhood spending time on the Chattahoochee River. This section is fairly short, Bradshaw captures them perfectly with vivid descriptions that capture a sort of tranquility that shows that he is capable of more than just blood, guts, and destruction (though he his damn good at portraying that stuff too!)

As he lies there, Union soldiers look for survivors and make sure everyone is dead. Just when Rusty fears he may be discovered, the soldiers take off after hearing sounds of another fight in the distance, sparing Rusty’s life at the last-minute. Rusty is saved by a mysterious stranger in a robe. He is taken to a basement in a nearby church and finds that there is a whole group of these people who wear robes made out of a coarse fabric, almost like a burlap sack. He falls in love with a woman named Molly who is the one that primarily takes care of him. While he is recuperating, Molly explains that she belongs to the Church of the Saviour’s Star. The gold thread and the fact that there are hexagrams embroidered on their robes, makes me think they are somehow connected to the Incan priests at the beginning of the story.

However, as Rusty is recovering, he begins to have his suspicions about the group and their motives. Especially when the other patients who were all around him go missing. When Rusty finally uncovers the truth, it may be too late.

Rusty is one of my favorite characters in the novel, probably right after Pastor Gimball (who we will get to later). There is a moment when facing imminent death, Rusty fights back and displays an incredible amount of bravery. He has been through hell since the opening pages of this story and no matter how bad things get, he never stops fighting.

One thing that I didn’t initially pick up on but I did with this story is that Bradshaw uses real places and events as the backdrop for his stories. He manages to put his own unique spin on them with the mythology he has created around the star-dust and other aspects of the Hexagram universe. I was also impressed with his ability to perfectly capture the bloody and brutal violence of the Civil War.

The Clarence Pub, corner of Great Scotland Yard and Whitehall, London, United Kingdom 1888 

I have always had a fascination with the Jack The Ripper case, so this was a story that caught my attention instantly.

This story opens with an investigator named Norton who was assigned to the Jack The Ripper Case meeting a colleague at a local bar. Norton gives Swanson a bit of info that not many other investigators have figured out. Norton thinks that the killer has been killing for over twenty years, but only recently has the killer slipped up leading him to attract police attention. Norton also claims to know the identity of the killer, but he insists that to get the information, Swanson must listen to his recounting of his investigation.

Norton earned a legendary reputation after solving the huge Tower Hill case, but left the big city for a quieter life in Salisbury, Wiltshire. That all changed in April of 1885 as he was handed a murder case. A local worker happened upon an open stables and when he went to check on what was going on, the killer burst past him. Inside were seven bodies, all of which were missing their internal organs. The fact that there were that many victims led Norton to believe that there was more than one perpetrator. As Norton begins to unravel the web of secrets regarding the murders, he makes a startling discovery that has ramifications not just for his career, but his life.

I loved the characterization of this story. The way Bradshaw handles the tense history between Swanson and Norton is excellent. In between Norton’s recounting of the case, we learn bits and pieces about their professional relationship. Swanson was a drunk who almost screwed up the Tower Hill case and this information plays a vital part in how Norton tells his story. I was also impressed that despite the contained nature of this story – two investigators talking in a bar and going over memories of a shared case – that this was one of the most gripping stories in the collection, which is a testament to Bradshaw’s writing.

Also, this story may be the one that had the most cringe worthy scenes for me. The part where Norton finds some of the victims will absolutely make your stomach churn!

Gimbaltown, New Providence, Bahamas December 8, 1981 

This story was another one of my favorites from Hexagram. Pastor Gimbal is the leader of Gimbaltown and he rules the community with an iron first. He is wired to notice any slight deviation from his plans and even something as minor as buying a generic brand of soda is liable to have deadly consequences. On the eve of Gimbaltown’s biggest moment, Gimbal is even more unhinged than usual. As events and bodies keep piling up, Gimbal continues to lose control and leads to a confrontation that lives on in infamy.

Bradshaw does an incredible job with the characterization in this one, particularly with the larger than life Pastor Gimbal. While he is definitely a terrifying, awful person, he is one of the most memorable characters in Hexagram.  He is capable of extreme violence  but he also comes up with some fairly humorous jokes. While some of them did get me to laugh, they only ramp up the tension because it contrasts just how detached he is from the violence he commits. The dialogue  throughout this story is fantastic, pitch-perfect and  totally believable. There is obvious nods to Jonestown in this one, yet again Bradshaw is able to put his own spin on it by introducing the star powder.

Salisbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom

This section follows two twin sisters Esther and Stella, who attempt to carry out the ritual that started centuries ago and somehow ends up in their home. Esther is a gifted artist and she uses those skills in her job at the local funeral home to make bodies look alive. While Esther takes pride in her work, she has an ulterior motive for working at the funeral home. It isn’t long until Esther and Stella feel pressured to speed up their plans and they go from under the radar to being super stressed out and facing trouble at every turn. As the pressure begins to mount, Esther and Stella are faced with a choice that could decide the fate of mankind. What choice will they make?

Esther and Stella are as close as most twins are, but they definitely have a tendency to bicker with each other. The sisters share a dark secret and the scenes portraying their relationship are great for a variety of reasons. Despite their real jobs, they seem to be relatively well-adjusted. However, as they are working they talk about it nonchalantly with a detachment that left me wondering how long their lives have been like that. There is also a cool twist that I honestly suspected, but the way it was handled helps to this final installment in Hexagram and it really helps the collection finish strong.

Overall Thoughts on Hexagram

One of the things I liked about Hexagram was the style choices Bradshaw made through out in regards to telling the story and formatting. Since each story has a distinct cast of characters, setting and overall tone, it is important that they are differentiated and Bradshaw does an excellent job in that regard. It is hard to describe, but if you read books from the 19th century or early 20th century, you will notice they have a distinct tone that is different from modern writing. The stories that take place in earlier  time periods such as the Ripper story or the story of the man whose crew shipwrecked, Bradshaw is able to perfectly capture the cadence of that style of writing and it really helps strengthen the stories and book as a whole. I also like the various modes of storytelling he utilizes. There are stories that are set up in a traditional format but then there is a story that takes the form of a confessional, a story largely between two characters and utilizing flashbacks, and a story that uses bits and pieces of police documentation.

I also really enjoyed the way Bradshaw was able to connect all the stories together. I will be honest, when I first started reading Hexagram, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I thought the connecting thread would fall apart and that the novel would come across as feeling disjointed. However, I think Bradshaw does a great job connecting all of the stories without having to shoehorn in summaries or explanations to make it work. I don’t want to point out all the little connection pieces, but I thought it was brilliant how Bradshaw continued to link all of the stories together. They all share a common narrative thread (the star-dust and a few other surprises) but there are also little nods to previous stories that are littered throughout Hexagram almost like Easter Eggs.

There are some unanswered questions that swirl around Hexagram, but they feel more like deliberate choices than glaring omissions. Talking about them too much would spoil the novel, but let’s just say I would love to find out more about how the knowledge is passed on through the generations and if there is something supernatural at work behind its constant presence. There are enough hints that I was able to form my own opinion and back story in my head, but I can’t help but think there could be a really good story in there somewhere!

Although I had some reservations about Hexagram at the beginning, I am really glad I kept reading because I was rewarded with a richly layered story that was fresh and unique. I am sure Hexagram will appeal to fans of horror and other speculative fiction genres. If you like copious amounts of blood and guts in your horror, you definitely won’t be disappointed with some of the stories in Hexagram. This may have been my first exposure to Duncan Bradshaw’s works, but I am sure it won’t be my last!

Rating: 4/5 

LINKS

Duncan P. Bradshaw’s Official Website

Sinister Horror Company’s Official Website

Purchase Hexagram: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sinister Horror Company, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Hexagram v2 tour graphic (1)

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Hexagram!- #Hexagram #IncanRituals #HookofaBook

Hexagram Synopsis

Their lands plagued by invaders, the Inca resort to an ancient ritual. By harvesting star dust from people, they hope to accumulate enough to raise the sun god, Inti, and reclaim their lands.

Yet when the collection is interrupted, it sets in motion events which will rattle human history.

Six stories. Six different time periods. One outcome.

We are all made of stars.

When an ancient Inca ritual is interrupted, it sets in motion a series of events that will echo through five hundred years of human history. Many seek to use the arcane knowledge for their own ends, from a survivor of a shipwreck, through to a suicide cult.

Yet…the most unlikeliest of them all will succeed

Praise for Hexagram

“Hexagram is a visceral journey through the dark nooks and crannies of human history. Lovecraftian terror merges with blood sacrifices, suicide cults and body horror as Bradshaw weaves an intricate plot into an epic tale of apocalyptic dread.” – Rich Hawkins, author of The Last Plague trilogy

“A rip-roaring boy’s own adventure yarn. This novel contains multitudes, and the sheer scale and breadth of the story is exhilarating. A glorious, unhinged thrill ride.” – Kit Power, author of GodBomb!

Praise for Duncan Bradshaw’s writing

“Duncan Bradshaw has a fantastic writing style. He gets you engrossed in the characters from the very outset. His mix of comedy and horror and real life are superb.” – Confessions of a Reviewer

“The true genius of Duncan P. Bradshaw is the rollercoaster ride of words and expressions.  I have never seen an author go from the depths of dark and gore to laugh out loud all within the same paragraph.” – 2 Book Lovers Reviews

“Remember, you’ve now willingly plunged yourself into the mind of Duncan Bradshaw. You’re completely at the mercy of his strange imagination and all the eccentric oddities that his curious mind can conjure up.” – DLS Reviews

“Bradshaw is able to weight the horror set pieces with a dry humour and plenty of laugh out loud moments.” – UK Horror Scene

“One of the first things that I did after reading The Black Room Manuscripts, was to go out and buy Class Three by Duncan Bradshaw. I just found his writing in Time for Tea to have this gleeful kind of undertow to the carnage he wrought on his tea drinkers and wanted to see what his writing was like in a longer format.” – Ginger Nuts of Horror

Duncan Bradshaw Biography

DPB Picture

Duncan P. Bradshaw lives in the county of Wiltshire, nestled around the belly button of southern England, with his wife Debbie, and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. During the day, he is a mild mannered office goon, doing things which would bore you, if he was forced to tell you. At night, he becomes one with a keyboard, and transforms his weird and wonderful thoughts into words, which people, like you, and me, can read.

Why not pop over to his websitegive him a like over on Facebook, or read his ravings on his blog.

Want to Feature Duncan Bradshaw?

If you’re a member of the media or a blogger and you’d like to feature Duncan Bradshaw or Hexagram, then please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com

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