Tag Archives: horror novels

Book Review: The Devil’s Woods by Brian Moreland

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The Devil’s Woods
by Brian Moreland
Samhain Publishing
Hardcover | eBook
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Cover Price: $16.00 ($12.55 on Amazon)
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

Fear wears many skins.

Deep within the Canadian wilderness, people have been disappearing for over a century. There is a place the locals call “the Devil’s Woods,” but to speak of it will only bring the devil to your door. It is a place so evil that even animals avoid it.

When their father’s expedition team goes missing, Kyle Elkheart and his brother and sister return to the abandoned Cree Indian reservation where they were born. Kyle can see ghosts that haunt the woods surrounding the village—and they seem to be trying to warn him. The search for their father will lead Kyle and his siblings to the dark heart of the legendary forest, where their mission will quickly become a fight for survival.

Review:
Set in the Macaya Woods deep in the forests of British Columbia, there’s a special breed of shape-shifters who lurk around the town of Hagen’s Cove and they’re some pretty sick, twisted creatures. Without giving too much away, they have a shared origin from what one could argue is the novel’s villain, although the townspeople itself can also be construed as the villains in some way.

Our main character is Kyle Elkheart, who is a best-selling horror writer of Native American heritage. The Devil’s Woods starts off with Kyle’s father, John, who is looking for one of his research assistants, Amy, who has gone missing in the woods as part of an expedition. John is a professor at the University of Vancouver, but he’s very in touch with his First Nations heritage and calls upon it for help but seems to fall prey to whatever has been silently ruling this town and plotting to take over. Kyle gets word from one of their cousins in Hagen’s Cove, Ray, that John Elkheart is in trouble. He lives in Seattle and has a troubled relationship with his father as well as his siblings (some more than others) but he agrees to make the trek back to BC.

Accompanying him are his brother, Eric, Eric’s Australian girlfriend Jessica, and their little sister, Shawna, with her boyfriend, Zack, one of the guys in the band she plays in who, as it turns out, is a rather avid reader of horror novels, including Kyle’s, and is a big fan.

Although Kyle’s wife, Stephanie, has been dead for a few years, he starts to develop feelings for Jessica. It’s not easy for Kyle to see her with his brother mostly because he knows better than anyone that Eric is a smooth-talking con artist lothario who sees women as a sport. Tensions rise as the novel goes on and Eric is unable to resist his straying ways, although Jessica grapples with her growing connection to Kyle.

It doesn’t take long for the real villains to emerge, apart from the ones that cause dissension between the family, and they get separated. The family’s grandfather, an Elder, is also present, but hasn’t said much in the last few years and unfortunately even though he’s one of the most important people they need to survive, he can’t help them in the way they need due to the effects of dementia.

The final showdown is set up and gradually all the secret identities are revealed, as Kyle and his family must fight to protect everyone they love in the midst of the shape-shifting monsters, influenced by Canadian Native American legends. While these creatures are similar to the Wendigo, which Moreland has used before in his previous novel, Dead of Winter, they will make you want to keep the lights on at night.

As he did with Dead of Winter, Moreland delivers another horror thriller that delivers thrills, chills, a lot of tension, many “edge of your seat” moments, and a highly compulsive read that makes for the perfect winter reading. Although The Devil’s Woods is set in the present, and not historical fiction like Dead of Winter, if that wasn’t to a reader’s taste, then that means good news for this one as more horror readers may be inclined to take a chance on it. Once again, Moreland’s research into Canada’s history and specifically British Columbia, as well as the Native American myths and legends associated with the region, is very well-done and he presents it in a very engaging way.

I’ve been recommending Dead of Winter to readers ever since I read it a few years ago, and I will continue to recommend it in this review as well because it’s such a high-impact novel. I enjoyed The Devil’s Woods as much as I enjoyed Dead of Winter although that novel remains my favourite of Moreland’s so far. Continue to watch for more of his work in the future, as it will only keep getting better and better.

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Blog Tour Post – Interview with Benjamin Kane Ethridge on “Dungeon Brain”

Dungeon Brain
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Dark sci-fi/Horror
Nightscape Press
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.

Plot Description:

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.

How did you come up with the concept behind this novel that multiple people could be taken into one person’s head?

At first I wanted to tell a story about a schizophrenic person with amnesia. What if you had different personalities in your mind, but none were your own? Then I started thinking about these different personalities. Did they have their own memories? What if they did? What if they weren’t imaginary people at all? Perhaps they’d been real people at one time and now found themselves trapped in this person’s head. From there, I just had to find a way for that to happen. Enter the Dungeon Brain.

Maggie Swanson is one of the most screwed up, frightening characters I can recall. Did you model her after other fictional nurses? Where did you draw the inspiration for her character?

A photo of Bettie Page at a friend’s house set me off. This was the photo of her in the sexy nurse outfit—but in the shadows under my friend’s coffee table, I didn’t find anything sexy about the image. She looked harsh, brutal even, and something about how she leered (or appeared to leer) conjured up a character that had a borderline, obsessive personality.

Mental health is such a hot button issue these days, with conditions like bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, addictions to prescription pills and suicides because of bullying gaining a lot of media attention, but despite that, people are still not willing to discuss suffering from these things publicly or even among friends. Why do you think there’s still such a stigma attached to mental health issues?

As with all illnesses, those involving the mind tend to be cause for embarrassment or shame. Normality is something most people want, from superficial reasons all the way up to survival reasons. People don’t want attention for their defects or the defects of people related to them. Covering it up is easier, since these types of illness aren’t always clearly detected anyway. If nobody mentions them, perhaps nobody will ever be the wiser and the facade of normality won’t be cracked.

The book is set in a bleak, dystopian sci-fi universe with talk of wars on different plants, there are aliens, people having eye implants to watch TV, etc. Did you intentionally make the foray into science fiction deliberately for this story, or did it start out in your head as something you always knew was a sci-fi tale?

Sci-Fi was always in mind for this novel, but the extent of it in the beginning draft was lesser. I originally wanted the story to take place on a devastated Earth in the future, but as the story evolved I desired more isolation from humanity’s origins. I wanted a planet that was in the thrall of war, but at the same time untouched by history. To me, the setting represents the main character better this way. She has inner turmoil, but she’s also a blank slate. She can retreat to who she was in the past, or she can be a different person moving on. Same with the planet.

Are there any passages that you found to be the most challenging to write, or perhaps the most rewarding?

There is a scene in the second act of the book that deals with the duplication of the Dungeon Brain’s prisoners. I knew why and how it had happened, but it took me a bit to form it into a narrative that I found to sufficiently explain the phenomenon. This book had many moments like that, when I’d say to myself, I wonder if the reader will follow this? Not that I felt my ideas were beyond most readers, but because I was attempting a level of descriptive complexity I’d never attempted before. In the end, I was happy with the results because I hadn’t gone too scientific or too esoteric. I don’t enjoy reading tales that suffer under those conditions; to me a story shouldn’t be as rigid as a physics text book, nor should it be as undisciplined as a drug-induced hallucination. In-between the two is where I try to find myself.

Many thanks to Ben for taking the time out of his jam-packed schedule to drop by for this interview on my blog! Be sure to follow Ben’s blog tour, which continues on November 1 and 3 with posts from Carl Alves. For a full list of the other blog tour stops, click here.

Blog Tour Post – Book Review, “Dungeon Brain” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Dungeon Brain
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Dark sci-fi/Horror
Nightscape Press
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.

Plot Description:

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.

Be sure to follow Ben’s blog tour, which continues on November 1 and 3 with posts from Carl Alves. For a full list of the other blog tour stops, click here.

Book Review: Revenge by Gabrielle Faust and Solomon Schneider

Revenge
by Gabrielle Faust and Solomon Schneider
$14.95 (paperback) | $5.95 (Kindle)
Barking Rain Press
January 12, 2012
264 pages
Visit the official Revenge website
Review copy received courtesy of the authors.

Description:

When Marcus Glenfield committed suicide, he took his place among the Legions of Hell as the Demon of Regret. When he learns that the Prince of Wickedness, Belial, is planning to take his former fiancé, Brenda, as his consort, Marcus’s newfound belief in a second chance is quickly shattered in a fit of all too human rage. Incensed by the new demon’s disrespectful hostility, Belial plunges Marcus into the deepest pits of Hell. But Lucifer has other plans for Marcus. For in the tormented lands of Purgatory, a strange and powerful uprising has gathered to form a new plane of existence—one that would break the ancient caste system of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Limbo and Earth, thwarting both God and Satan’s permanency within the universe. Not only have these brash metaphysical pirates kidnapped the powerful child born of Brenda and Belial’s union, they have also guided Marcus out of the prisons of Hell to their new realm. When they promise Marcus freedom in return for his help, he realizes that he will have to choose a side. But can he find one that he can truly believe in?

Review:
Revenge is a novel that readers have to feel for themselves–a plot summary like the one provided above explains the gist of what happens in the wonderfully crafted novel co-written by Gabrielle Faust and Solomon Schneider, but it doesn’t do justice to the intricately crafted events that occur in the book. I’ve never encountered a text so moving and philosophical that it gives you a whole different reading experience. In other words, when I was reading Revenge, I was so deeply immersed and engaged in the act of reading, that I forgot it was a novel.

However, it’s also an incredibly thought-provoking novel written in a very luxurious style–luxurious not only in the sense that the descriptions are opulent and savoury, but also in the sense that one feels richer while reading the book. That said, it’s not written in a Hollywood blockbuster style like other books on the same subject. It’s not written with a breakneck speed, launching and propelling the reader to the end.

It’s not an “easy” book, and will definitely challenge you in terms of the way it’s written, and the flow, pacing, and narrative. But it’s more rewarding than the blockbuster type of books. Unlike those, Revenge will actually stay with you after you’ve finished reading it.

Revenge is, in some ways, the demon-themed book that I’ve been waiting for. It’s free of campiness, it doesn’t read like a video game adaptation (which many demon-centred texts do), nor is it RPGish. It’s about demons, of course, but it’s about so much more. It’s philosophical, which doesn’t come as a surprise given co-author Schneider’s background in studying Philosophy. Although demons and angels are both involved, Heaven and Hell, it’s Purgatory that is at the core of Revenge, and both warring sides want control over it, in essence. At the outset, the novel doesn’t seem that way, though–it starts off with the main character, Marcus, who is obsessed with a chair he bought at a garage sale.

From this small spec of dust grows a seedling, which reveals that Marcus is getting vivid dreams of a gruesome nature and that he’s seeing into Hell. He’s alienated his girlfriend, Brenda, who wants nothing to do with him, and he loses his job under tense circumstances. He then meets a demon called Desiderium, who unlocks the regrets that torment him, which leads to Marcus handing over his soul to the creature, but there’s a catch. Marcus doesn’t do himself in properly, and so he’s technically still alive, and until he dies, Desiderium can’t have his soul. A few clever twists later, the tables have turned and suddenly, the demon isn’t really the one in power anymore–or so it seems.

One of the best elements of this novel is the plot twists. They’re shocking and sometimes even fierce, but never did they make me question their logic or why things unfolded the way they did. Another of the most striking points about the book is the uniqueness in the worldbuilding. Sure, there are a few givens, like God and the Devil, Lucifer, demons, angels, Purgatory, the Garden of Eden, souls, etc, but Faust and Schneider, while they stick to the main rules/familiarities readers have with demons, break out of them at the same time. This is particularly evident with the physical description of Desiderium, which isn’t at all like a typical demon’s–it’s even cooler.

Marcus must begin anew as a demon, and along the way toward finding out just what he’s supposed to do when he’s dealt a rather deceitful hand, he encounters more demons, more betrayal, and finally, he finds himself in a new place after a girl and man, Amberlee and John, introduce him to a couple who are difficult to describe, but in one of their explanations, they tell Marcus they’re like the embodiments of Yin and Yang. They also go by The King and the Queen. They look like Greek Gods, but don’t like being called deities–they’re also not demons or angels, and it’s unclear what they really are, but their agenda, which at first seems benign, turns out to be a lot more sinister, particularly when it comes to the girl, Amberlee, who is also not quite what she seems.

Brenda also returns to the fray, and we learn that her involvement in the plot runs far deeper and is far more tied to Marcus’s fate than previously indicated. Lucifer also plays a prominent role in this novel, and it’s definitely an interesting depiction with shades of Gaiman-esque influence painted on him throughout. The Archangels and angelic beings get involved in the latter portions of the novel, including the Archangel Michael, and they have their own history with Purgatory, which is interesting.

There are sections in which the narrative backstory lags, particularly with the explanation of Michael’s war in Purgatory with the Swamp Lord, which feels more like reading a historical text, but thankfully there aren’t too many passages like this in the book. There are also some memorable fight scenes–not in the Mortal Kombat sense or anything–no, these scenes have a bit more emotional resonance to them and are often pretty short in terms of the actual action, but nonetheless they stuck out in my mind. Again, I think this helped in ensuring that this book came off as more a descendent of Paradise Lost rather than an action-packed video game, not that there’s anything wrong with those types of fantasy and horror novels, but Revenge has a decidedly more literary bent to it.

It’s tricky to maintain a balance between the plotlines and I do think we spend a bit too much time apart from Marcus at certain points, even if he is alluded to. Still, the authors pull the balance off for the most part. By the time the novel reaches its conclusion, you will, of course, be left wanting more, and the events scream sequel (which I for one certainly hope is the case), albeit not in a gimmicky way.

Demon lovers, prepare to feast on Revenge. It’s a rich novel providing a unique reading experience, great worldbuilding, exciting characters, and a wonderful epic plot. If you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, I urge you to.

To find out more about Gabrielle Faust, visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. You can also find out more about co-author Solomon Schneider here. And for those of you attending the World Horror Convention 2012 in Salt Lake City next week, keep an eye out for the lovely Ms. Gabrielle :-)

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