Archive for April, 2018

Length: 384 Pages

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Release Date: April 10, 2018

Like a lot of people, the first time I read Malerman’s work was when I stumbled across his debut novel Bird Box. Bird Box is a unique story that follows a woman named Malorie as she attempts to find a safe place to take her two children, five years after the arrival of the mysterious creatures who can drive people to madness with just one glimpse. Reading Bird Box, I was drawn in immediately by his unique take on the post-apocalyptic story and the world building that went into the story. After I finished that, I was sold on Malerman’s talent and knew I was going to be a longtime fan. I’ve read everything Malerman has released since Bird Box, and while each book has its own style, the one constant is Malerman’s storytelling ability and imagination. When I first about his latest release, Unbury Carol, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what sort of adventure Malerman conjured up this time around.

Carol Evers has a secret that she has only shared with three people – her best friend John Bowie, her husband Dwight and her ex, the famed outlaw James Moxie. Carol has died many times throughout her life, although her deaths are a bit different from the one everyone else experiences. She doesn’t actually die, but instead falls into a long-lasting coma that makes it appear as if she is dead to those who are unaware of her condition. It’s easy to think she has actually died – her heartbeat is faint, her pulse becomes barely detectable and she shows no sign of breathing – which poses a very grave threat to Carol’s life. Carol guards her secret because she fears it will frighten people and cause them to leave her. However, this proves to be a deadly mistake because her husband, who many thought only married her for her money, plans to use her condition to steal her fortune and bury her alive so that he can live a life of luxury. Although Carol and Moxie have not seen or spoken to one another in 20 years, the news of her death causes him to saddle up again and take to the Trail for the first time in a decade. After the untimely death of Carol’s friend John, Moxie is the only one who knows Carol’s not dead and the only one who will be able to save her. The question is, will he reach her in time? Because there are other people who have an interest in seeing Carol buried alive and they will do whatever it takes to keep Moxie from ruining their plans.

Unbury Carol into a single genre, I would label it a Weird Western, which is a genre I haven’t been too big on in recent years. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but for some reason I could never get hooked on one, at least in terms of novels. That wasn’t the case with Unbury Carol, which immediately hooked me with rich world-building, memorable characters and an engaging plot.

I loved the way Malerman crafted Carol’s affliction, which appears to draw inspiration from the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. However, Malerman is able to make it his own by not only making Carol’s comas more frightening, but by also giving reader’s a glimpse of it through her eyes. The doctors that Carol saw early in life were never able to give her condition a scientific name as it seems to be an affliction unique to Carol. While it was frightening at first, Carol crafts an identity around her condition in an attempt to normalize it and take some of the fear from it. She started calling it “Howltown”, which is more of a name for the state she occupies in one of her comas and less the condition itself. Despite the fact that it’s a desolate place that only she can visit, she thinks of it as a town. There is no light in Howltown and it got its name from the howling wind that never stops and is the only noticeable stimulus that cuts through the absolute darkness. She always knows when the comas are coming as it is preceded by a falling sensation and distorted vision. She sometimes sees ripples and it’s like her world is slowly bleeding into Howltown.

This is one of the most horrifying aspects of Unbury Carol. Don’t get me wrong, Unbury Carol has many moments that are laced with evil and brutality, but imagine the horror that Carol is faced with every time she has an attack. Her own body acts like a prison and she is unable to move or communicate with anyone in the real world while she is in Howltown. Sometimes she can make out bits and pieces of what is happening around her, but she’s powerless to do anything about it. Imagine facing the betrayal of someone who was supposed to love you and that you trusted as they plot your death and taunt you at every step of the way. It’s absolutely bone-chilling.

Another strength of Unbury Carol is the characters. Malerman brings the towns that litter the Trail to life by crafting interesting characters. Listing all of them would be near impossible, but I decided to highlight a few. Carol’s friend John Bowie, who has already passed away by the opening of the novel, leaves a lasting impression even in death. He was a good man who often made himself the life of the party due to his penchant for magic tricks. However his importance comes into play due to his relationship with Carol. He was her closest friend, and the intimate nature of their relationship is shown through the fact that he was the only person outside of her family and significant others who ever learned of her secret. Rather than get freaked out like many others would have, Bowie listens to her with care and respect, wanting to understand his friends affliction. He is the only one outside of her mother Hattie to try to understand Carol’s illness and help her develop ways to cope with it. Everyone else wanted to exploit her or simply ran from the challenges they thought it posed.

I also loved following Moxie’s part of the story. James Moxie’s notoriety comes from the event largely known as “The Trick in Abberstown”, where Moxie won a duel against a man named Daniel Prouds without ever drawing his gun. While the event happened many years ago, it is still talked about by anyone who comes into contact with Moxie. While Moxie used that reputation to carve out a life on the Trail, he’s no longer the same man he once was. When Moxie drops everything to race to Harrows to try to save Carol, he had been off the Trail for nine years. As I loved the decision to have these events take place in the twilight of his career because it makes him a more interesting character. Moxie is no longer full of the bravado you would expect from his younger days, but instead battles the demons of his past and feelings of self-doubt.

There are supernatural elements throughout Unbury Carol, but the most frightening moments of the novel come from the interactions between the human characters and the evil they are capable of. The character responsible for causing the most mayhem is easily the feared outlaw Smoke. Smoke is one of the most terrifying antagonists I have come across in recent memory. None of it has to do with supernatural powers, but rather his propensity for evil and the atrocities he is able to carry out without any remorse. Every scene he is in is unpredictable because he is just as likely to let people go as he is to kill them. He has a unique and brutal calling card and it’s the reason he is the most feared person on the Trail. He is tasked with hunting Moxie and their relationship is interesting because Moxie’s legend grew in the wake of Smoke’s own personal tragedy. Smoke is fascinated by Moxie’s legend, but loathes him and dreams about what will happen if he finally catches up to him on the Trail. Then there is Rot, another terrifying villain that plays a large part in the novel. I won’t go into too much detail about his story, but his scenes are among the creepiest in the novel.

Malerman’s world building is excellent and while I already talked a bit about Howltown, the other big set piece of Unbury Carol is the Trail. The Trail is a passage that connects all of the neighboring towns and has a rich history and legends of its own. It is a hard and unforgiving place that many of the residents avoid traveling if they can help it. Men who feel lost or aimless often can’t resist the pull of the Trail. Sure, there is darkness and evil lurking along the Trail, but what Malerman has done is craft a beautiful setting full of mystery and intrigue and it is that mystique that lures people like Moxie and Smoke to it. It’s a chance for them to make names for themselves and leave a lasting legacy.

Structurally, Malerman jumps around between various points of view and isn’t afraid to use fluid timelines. While the story does have a linear narrative, he occasionally uses flashbacks at various points of the story. This approach may not work for every reader, but I enjoyed how he worked in minor plot threads throughout the story before circling back and wrapping them up later. The best example of this would be the various mentions of “The Trick in Abberstown”. I love how the story is told in anecdotes sprinkled throughout the novel and from various perspectives, but that the narrative still maintains a cohesive structure.

While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this is on my shortlist for my favorite novel of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Josh Malerman’s Official Website

Random House Books’ Official Website

Purchase Unbury Carol: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is an internationally bestselling, Bram Stoker Award–nominated American author and one of two singer/songwriters for the rock band The High Strung. His debut novel, Bird Box, was published in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2014 to much critical acclaim. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, with his best friend/soulmate Allison Laakko and their pets Frankie, Valo, Dewey, Marty, and the fish.

 

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Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from R.S. Belcher, who just released the second book in the Nightwise series through Tor Books. The Night Dahlia is an urban fantasy with noir elements and has been described as “Supernatural meets L.A. Confidential“. The Night Dahlia continues the story of Laytham Ballard, a once member of the Nightwise, a group of mages tasked with protecting the world from evil supernatural forces. R.S. Belcher decided to stop by and share his inspiration on creating the main protagonist of Laytham Ballard and some of the things that inspired him while crafting the world the series takes place in. 

I would like to thank Rod for stopping by The Horror Bookshelf and Anna at Tor Publicity for helping set everything up!

 

“The Knave’s Knigdom: Laytham Ballard and the world of the Night Dahlia” by R.S. Belcher

My new novel, The Night Dahlia, being released by Tor Books on April 3rd, is the second book in the Nightwise series, the first being 2015’s Nightwise.  The Nightwise universe is built on the foundations of my favorite kind of fantasy, the contemporary genre, where the supernatural and the mythic rub shoulders with the world we live in, and the Noir genre of fatalistic, flawed heroes prowling worlds where the odds are stacked against them, criminals, and street hustlers working angles and plotting capers.  

I wanted my protagonist, Laytham Ballard, to be a kind of occult “rock star” after the VH1 “Where Are They Now” episode.  He had immense power, and he could have been this great world-changing person, but he fell to arrogance, selfishness, pride and self-aggrandizement.  I wanted Laytham to be someone the reader would probably not like, but probably knew and probably understood.

It’s quite a dance to make a character an asshole and still want the reader to follow them in their story, and root for them.  There is a line in Nightwise that Ballard says that all my beta readers and my editor didn’t like, and for good reason.  It implied all the worst aspects of the character and confirmed for the reader what a lying S.O.B Ballard was.  I’ve had several people tell me they threw the book and cussed my character out when he said this thing. But as far as I know, everyone picked the book back up.  If you didn’t, please do, you may be pleasantly surprised.

I try to present the world we live in as much as I can in the series.  For example, I include stuff like Pokemon Go, kids in Black Panther T-shirts, a wizard that crafts spells through Twitter, social media data mining, and real world individuals, some of them pretty nefarious (one of which died on me in the time between finishing the Night Dahlia and publication, good riddance by the way).  

It can be challenging to include stuff that’s topical and current when you’re writing several years out from publication.  Part of it is trying to forecast things you don’t expect to be flashes in the pan, and part of it is listening to your instinct about what’s going to bounce around for a bit in the societal echo chamber.  Some are hits, some are misses, but I’m pretty happy with how many of my little Easter eggs remain at least a little relevant.

The end result for the Nightwise series is, hopefully, to create an urban fantasy world that is markedly unique from what readers may be used to.  You can judge for yourself by checking out the Night Dahlia on April 3rd.  I wanted to thank Rich and the Horror Bookshelf for giving me the privilege of posting today.

LINKS

R.S. Belcher’s Official Website

Tor Books’ Official Website

Purchase Darkest Hours: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About R.S. Belcher

Photo Credit: David Hungate of Dominion Images

R.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.

Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.

The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.

Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series, The Queen of Swords was published in 2017. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series.

His novel, Nightwise, was released in August, 2015, and was reissued with additional material in January of 2018. The sequel to Nightwise, The Night Dahlia, will be released in April of 2018.

Rod’s novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was published by Tor in March of 2016. It was a Locus Awards finalist for Horror in 2017, and is currently in development as a television series. The sequel to Brotherhood, The King of the Road, is scheduled for publication by Tor in December 2018.

He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his children, Jonathan and Emily.

Length: 100 Pages

Publisher: Parallel Universe Publications

Release Date: November 12, 2017

The Crabian Heart follows 13-year-old Aleš and his mother Irena, who are on their own after Ales’ father was locked up in prison shortly after arriving in Dover, England after fleeing the Czech Republic. They are staying at The East Cliff Hotel temporarily while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. There they run into Zsofia, who is the owner of the hotel. She tells them that everything is taken care of for the duration of their application process and they receive a small weekly allowance for necessities. Zsofia tries to calm their fears about the father by telling him that they always detain the men of any families who come over.

Almost right away Irena doesn’t trust Zsofia, a character whose motivations remain murky for most of the novella. When Aleš tries to disagree because she appeared to be smiling, Irena said her smile was “thinner than a razorblade. And her eyes. It’s all in the eyes. They never lie, no matter how pleasant you pretend to be.” Aleš isn’t excited about his new home – the hotel lobby reeks of mothballs and the room has no VCR – but when he hears the screeching of seagulls, the prospect of living near the sea fills him with excitement.

All he wants to do is to take his mind off of the turmoil surrounding his life, so while his mother is running appointments, he convinces her to allow him to visit the beach by himself. While that seems like a small victory, it is a decision that will alter his life forever. It’s at the beach that he meets a frail girl named Enola, who answers Aleš’ questions with strange observations that hint that she is anything but an ordinary girl. They begin walking together and Ales sees a small, purple crab and Enola gives him the ominous warning to stay away from them because they are not what they seem. After his initial discovery of the strange crabs and an ocean that seems to shift colors at will, Aleš begins seeing weird things all over Dover.

Despite the fact that he thinks Enola is strange initially, it doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with her. He begins to use any excuse he think of to sneak out of his new apartment and spend the day with her. However, as Aleš begins to learn more about the town he is in and his mysterious new friend Enola, he learns that not everything is as it seems and that the new life he is trying to build is in grave danger.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Crabian Heart. There is plenty of horror and fantastical elements throughout, but at its core, The Crabian Heart is a story that almost everyone can relate to. It’s the story of two outsiders dealing with love, heartbreak, and the desire for acceptance. These are topics that touch everyone’s life in one way or another and I think that is what makes this story so engaging. I loved the dynamic that Hofstatter develops between Aleš and Enola. While there is numerous scenes that makes their story compelling, there are two short moments that perfectly capture their relationship. The first is when Aleš and Enola meet for the first time. There is a great line when she asks Aleš if he’s scared of her and he says no, wondering what would prompt her to ask him that question. She says “Because I’m different. People are scared of what they don’t know…or understand.” The other is when Zsofia is telling Aleš the heartbreaking story about her husband’s betrayal. He listens to her story and warnings about love, but tells Zsofia that Enola inspires him not to be afraid of the world and that when you invest your heart and soul into someone it changes you.

However, I did have a minor issue with parts of the story. Hofstatter never mentions why the family has decided to flee their home country and while it doesn’t significantly detract from the story, it feels like the story could have been enhanced if we had a little information on the Aleš’ family. It’s a short piece so I understand not wanting to bog it down with too much back story, but just a paragraph or two at most could have added another layer to this piece. Were they simply just seeking a better financial future? Were they involved in some kind of legal trouble? There is a small mention of their troubles in an exchange between Aleš and his mother where he asks if they will be safe and if “they” will be able to find them, and his mother reassures him by saying everything will be fine. That helps to a degree, but it still feels like something is missing.

Despite my wish for a little more development of the family dynamic, I loved the vibe of The Crabian Heart. It’s a coming-of-age tale mashed-up with some of the best parts of weird fiction. This story isn’t overly scary, in fact it’s more rooted in those feelings of love and the risks that come with it. But while The Crabian Heart may not have a heavy focus on outright scares, there are some pretty vivid and creepy scenes of body horror in the later half of the novella that are extremely well done.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Crabian Heart, I think I felt more of a connection to the second story contained within called Fountain of Drowned Memories. This story opens with a man named Lorcan studying these amorphous stains that are on the ceiling in a room that he has been trapped in for some time. His thoughts are slowly eroding from his memory as he can’t remember when he first arrived in the room or the changes that happened to his body. The one thing that brings him any sort of relief from his waking nightmare is the fountain in his room. He submerges his head in the waters and it removes all negative thoughts from his mind. He feels he is being tortured in this place, but he doesn’t understand why he has been brought to this place. While the fountain brings him his only sense of relief in this hellish prison, he gets the sense that the fountain is stealing his memories. To make matters worse, he begins having frightening visions that seem to get worse with every passing day.

I don’t want to talk about too much of the plot of this story because it might spoil it for new readers, but I love the way Hofstatter manipulates reality in this story. He is able to keep the reader off-balance by forcing them to decide what is real. This is a heartbreaking story and a perfect complement to The Crabian Heart, creating a one-two punch of what I feel are Hofstatter’s strongest stories to date. This was an engaging collection that whips by at a frantic pace and is easily read in one sitting. Hofstatter has a new book coming out this year from Sinister Grin Press called TOROA and I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing what kind of dark visions he has cooked up.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Erik Hofstatter’s Official Website

Parallel Universe Publications’ Official Website

Purchase The Crabian Heart: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Parallel Universe Publications, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Erik Hofstatter

Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association. Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show. Other works include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, Moribund Tales and Rare Breeds.