by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
October 30, 2012
$9.44 (Barnes & Noble)
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of this book! Contest closes December 15, 2012
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Full Disclosure: I organized this blog tour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge and arranged the other blog tour stops.
June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall– the starting point of her freedom.
But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.
Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.
The third novel from talented dark fantasy and horror scribe Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Dungeon Brain marks his first novel-length foray into science fiction.
We start things off with a woman, Bethany Haines, who says she remembers dying. She’s in a dingy hospital room, and doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She thinks she may have amnesia. Her memories are all of another woman. She insists that this woman who she sees is not her. This woman has a strong body, a taller more muscular frame, and is slim. Still, she knows enough to realize she’s in a hospital. She thinks she has been a prisoner at a colony for too long. She’s looking at soldiers in a firefight. She does remember a trial, being stripped of citizenship, and incarceration on the Tyrant CII colony, which has some pretty gruesome conditions. She recalls the day when a regulatory officer was murdered, and all the prisoners died. She thinks it might be because there was an invasion, remembers dying, and then realizes she may be being watched.
Bethany reveals she has a history of violence, mostly against men. She also has had an eye implant removed so she can’t watch any of her news or favourite shows. Unable to tell what’s going on outside with the explosions that continue, she retreats under the bed only to find a nurse who enters her room and at first seems helpful, saying “You’re Bethany today,” suggesting that this protagonist goes by multiple identities. The nurse, Maggie, soon reveals herself to be something of a cleverly put together psycho who goes from hot to cold in seconds, an irrational and insecure being who does not enjoy being lied to. And she’s in charge. :-S
The point of view then shifts to another person, Samantha Wright, who rejoices in being thin because she remembers being close to 300 pounds. Again, her reflection doesn’t match what she remembers of her looks, and she begins to think her mind has been transferred to another body. The point of view character realizes that there are hundreds of people trapped in her brain, which is when things switch over to the Woman. No matter who is in charge of her, the Woman has a deep fear of Nurse Maggie. It was particularly at this point that I started to see a parallel between Dungeon Brain and the short-lived Joss Whedon drama, “Dollhouse,” which features people who willingly allowed their brains to be programmed so they could become multiple people. The “files” in their brains made sure they maintained everything taken from the person they were emulating from the personal look to the emotions to the thought processes. In Dungeon Brain things get even more diabolical.
Nurse Maggie continues to torment the Woman with memories that are vague and blur together, so that the Woman can’t realize the real reasons behind why she’s here, how she got there, and why there are so many people in her head. Maggie reveals she and the Woman were childhood friends, but all the voices tell her to break out of the place she’s in and not to trust a word Maggie says.
We soon discover that the Woman, our protagonist, June Nilman, is a Dungeon Brain, a special kind of “extramental” who can not only suck other people into her head, but keep them there and become them. June finds herself “rescued” by a band of humans who are in the maze she is trying to navigate, which has caused her to hallucinate, among other things. One of them, Bobby, starts helping her fill in some of the blanks. Of course, it also helps that the psychotic Nurse Maggie stops pressing the reset button on her brain every day, and it emerges that Maggie is nicknamed the Dictator, and is an “extramental,” someone who controlled the minds of the Rotvique aliens who originally wanted to kill her and sent assassins against her, like June. It didn’t exactly turn out according to their plans, especially not when Maggie placed then under her control and influenced them to be obedient to her and obey her commands. June is a unique kind of extramental, a Dungeon Brain, who was originally supposed to kill Maggie, but failed, and awoke to receive amnesia in a bottle plus all the other people in her mind.
Another interesting figure, Dalton aka The Labyrinth Man, also comes into the narrative. He, too, tried to stop Maggie, but couldn’t. June learns that she can bring the minds of other creatures into her own, which is why the soldiers like Bobby wear desynth equipment so they can’t fall prey to her influence. Bobby elaborates on her Dungeon Brain abilities, saying “You can read the minds of people like books stored in your head.” There are four other Dungeon Brains in her head, and the only way she is going to make sense of anything, he advises, is to listen to them, and find out how they got there in the first place. When the truth comes out, it’s not pretty. June is disgusted to learn of the acts she committed to get those other people in her mind, and although at the time she seemed to be able to justify the decision, she struggles with it now.
The dissension in the soldier ranks helps keep things interesting, particularly the awkward love triangle between June, Bobby, and Peter, one of the other soldiers. Along with the tension established with Bobby’s enforcement of the rules of the facility they’re in, particularly the most important one, which is that only he can go into the Labyrinth Man’s room and talk to him, it makes for suspenseful tension. But beyond the Labyrinth Man, there is also the Never Nerve, the oldest extramental, to whom June learns she was completely and utterly devoted.
Of course, eventually Maggie gets wise to June’s hideout, and a full-scale battle ensues, and ultimately, everything comes to a head with a nerve-wracking but ultimately satisfying conclusion to what is a dynamic concept and a fantastic read. I’m not known for liking science fiction, with very few exceptions, and I tend not to like what’s commonly termed as “hard SF” which is science fiction that focuses more on the science aspect, the technicalities, etc, as opposed to “soft SF” which has sci-fi elements, but is ultimately a fantasy story, or it’s a drama that just happens to be set in space. Nurse Maggie more than fulfills her role as a memorable villain, one of those people you will truly love to hate, and June, the titular Dungeon Brain, has secrets of her own that will make you as the reader question whether you’re rooting for a good guy or just another villain with slightly different intentions than Maggie. So there you have it, readers. Even if you’re not the biggest sci-fi fan, but you’ve enjoyed Ethridge’s previous horror novels, you will definitely get a kick out of Dungeon Brain which is another finely crafted novel from the author’s thankfully ever-growing repertoire, something I can’t get enough of.