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Review: ‘Bound’ by Alan Baxter

Yep, it’s review time again! Bound by Alan Baxter, is the tenth book I’ve sunk my teeth into this year, and that may not seem a lot to some, but when weighed against my work (which entails a tonne of reading) and my own writing, I’m doing pretty damn well.

So, in keeping with my reading of Aussie authors, Alan Baxter’s tome had crept its way to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Now before we venture much further, this review comes with a disclaimer: Alan is a mate; we’re both part of a group of spec-fic writers (big up Sydney SHADOWS!) who get together as often as we can — but never often enough — to discuss all things writing and books and comics and life and stuff while we drink copious amounts of Fat Yak (but that’s a story for another day).

With the requisite disclaimer out of the way, now comes the requisite spoiler alert:

<insert Dalek voice here> DANGER! DANGER! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER! DANGER!

Bound is the first book in Baxter’s ‘Alex Caine’ trilogy, published through Harper Voyager. I’m familiar with Alan’s shorter works, so I was looking forward to reading one of his longer pieces. Bound introduces us to Alex Caine, an underground fighter (think MMA) with an uncanny ability to ‘read’ his opponents moves before they’re delivered. He does this via what he calls ‘shades’ (Magesign), and it’s made him top of his game. A usually solitary figure, Caine gets himself into some trouble from a local Sydney ‘gangsta’ (I’ve always wanted to write that word), and with the timely visit from an Englishman, Welby, who knows Alex’s secret, the adventure begins.

Caine-Bound-book-page

To avoid the veritable shitstorm coming Caine’s way, he accepts Welby’s invitation to travel to London. This is the beginning of Caine’s globetrotting quest, and an introduction to a world and magic and “people” (Fey), he never knew existed. Caine is somewhat of a ‘savant’ when it comes to the magic he possesses, and the Fey-world into which he’s been thrust is hard and unforgiving.

Welby needs Caine to decipher an ancient book no one (Fey or Kind) have been able to unlock. From here, things go from bad to worse then worserer (yeah, I said it). The book ‘Uthentia’ holds the remnants of an ancient Fey-godling that wants nothing more than to return chaos to all worlds – human and Fey – and no matter how much Caine wants rid of the book, it’s hitched its trailer to him. Add in the shards of a magical stone (on which his quest balances), Caine is in some serious shit. He’s a conduit, one who’s trying to conquer the bad mojo for survival. Not just his, but that of the worlds.

Baxter’s tale is fast-paced, and the magic he’s created is interesting, and something of which I wanted to know more. He touches on the monsters of popular culture and myth alike, which, for me, only placed me more solidly in Baxter’s world. He also take the writer credo: ‘write what you know’, to heart here. A kung-fu instructor himself, he’s incorporated the fighting skills and lessons of his sifu to see Caine through his quest and internal battle with the magic that’s ‘bound’ itself to him, and you can see that in the believability of the fight scenes.

Caine isn’t alone in travels. A half-Fey, Silhouette, has taken a shine to him, and Caine falls hard and fast for her. I was a little worried Silhouette was the ‘requisite love interest’, but she holds her own, and doesn’t shy from who she is and what she needs to do to survive. Something she doesn’t hide from Caine either. Theirs is a complicated yet strikingly honest relationship (regardless of the secrets each needs to keep).

The two make a formidable force, as do the antagonists in this tale – (the fantastically tuckerised) Hood and Sparks. Nasty pieces of work, both. But well placed against Caine and Silhouette. There are shades of grey through all the characters, and that’s something I liked most about this tale.

blood spatterThere are sections of this story that those with weaker stomachs when it comes to fiction, might have trouble reading. If vivid violence, rough sex, and a shitload of swearing aren’t your cup of tea then this might not be the book for you. But creativity is meant to push boundaries, to take us places that make us wonder at what humanity really means. What’s that saying? ‘Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.’ Baxter does this well while providing a hell of a story to boot.

My only concern is that with such a fast-paced, action-packed first book, sustaining this through books two and three, and upping the ante, might make this a hard act to follow. I’m looking forward to the ride, though, I gotta say.

I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster when it comes to star ratings (you need to really earn a five star from me), and while it took me longer than I wanted to read Bound, it was more that I’m extremely time-poor, than a reflection on the story itself. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hankered to get back to it (Baxter’s “monsters” are pretty damn awesome), but real life and a tonne of work has a habit of imposing itself on my leisurely pursuits.

So, on a Goodreads scale, I give Bound 5 stars.

five stars

Review: ‘Davey Ribbon’ by Matthew Tait

Woo hoo! It’s review time again! I’ve been going strong with my reading of Aussie writers this year, and Matthew Tait is the next Australian author whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading. As mentioned in previous reviews, the Australian spec fic community is a close-knit one – the horror community, more so. Yep, you guessed it, this review comes with a disclaimer. I know Matt quite well, you could even say we’re buds. We have a mutual love of Clive Barker, and horror as a whole. I’ve never worked with Matt on any of his projects, so when I purchased Davey Ribbon, it was as a reader (and to support the work of Aussie writers, of course).

Alrighty, with the disclaimer out of the way, the next order of business is the spoiler alert:

SPOILERS ABOUND WITH ABOUNDING ABOUNDEDNESS – DON’T BLAME ME IF YOU READ ON AND HAVE AN ‘AWW, SHE SPOILED THE STORY WITH ABOUNDING SPOILERS OF ABOUNDEDNESS!’

davey ribbon

 

Davey Ribbon (released through HodgePodge Press) is the first of Matthew Tait’s work I’ve read, and if this is the mettle of what he has to offer, then I will fast be rectifying this fact.

Let’s begin with the cover art – yes, I know the old adage ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ but as someone who works both sides of the desk, aah, yeah, I do (if you’ve got crap cover art, I’m gonna assume—rightly or wrongly—the words inside aren’t going to be much better). No problem here with Davey Ribbon; the cover art is as hauntingly eerie as it is beautiful.

The story begins in the past, 1969 to be exact, where Angus Fisher has stumbled upon the murder of a child – Sarah Capeshaw – in the middle of the forest surrounding Cyclone Cove. Angus is in dire straits; the murderer, Reginald Avery, won’t have any witnesses to his crime. As Angus begs, reasons, yells for his survival, in strolls Davey Ribbon, a child-savant with a love of ribbons (which trail behind him wherever he goes).

Things go from bad to worse, and while I won’t spoil this scene (it really does deserve to be spoiler free), it’s this dark past that will come back to bite Cyclone Cove and its residents on the arse.

Fast forward to the present day, and Davey Ribbon has become the stuff of urban legend, but there are those within Cyclone Cove who will not let the past die. Cyclone Cove is reminiscent of many a small town with secrets (think Stephen King’s ‘Derry’, from IT), and when you add in a huge conglomerate that has come to the Cyclone Cove as its “saviour”, things aren’t going to end pretty.

We’re slowly introduced to those townfolk who will become major players in the story’s finale, and Tait does well to weave the many characters within the story, although there were, at times (about midway through), where I began to wonder whether I could keep the characters straight in my head. With the twins (Beatrice and Michelle), their religious-nutter mother (Patty), their babysitter (Miriam), the head of the cult-conglomerate (Samara) and her boy-toy (Nathan), the town’s recluse (Norman Perks), renowned musician (Jerry), returned resident (Sean), town cop (Bill), Samara’s acolytes, pub owner… and those characters from the past.

It’s a big character list, but this is a small town, and there are a lot of things at play behind the scenes and from the past that sit like a volcano beneath Cyclone Cove. It’s not a matter of will the eruption occur, but when.

DAVEY005

This is a story of secrets – everyone has them – and the biggest secret of all is Davey Ribbon. As with any urban legend, it differs in its telling, growing more macabre. Tait works the legend and the secrets well, giving the reader a little more then a little more as the story slowly unravels (and the townsfolk with it).

The crux of this story revolves around the book’s namesake – Davey Ribbon – who begins to show himself to those who have been chosen to fight the big fight. But Davey isn’t the only one behind the scenes pulling the strings. While Samara Reagan and Norman Perks are working overtime and double-shifts to bring Davey into the now (each with differing agendas), there are those within Cyclone Cove who are the puppets for the puppeteers. Each of the players in this finale have only pieces of the puzzle, as does the reader, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on as the characters’ did.

From about midway, though, I began to wonder when Angus Fisher would make a reappearance – Tait does well with his misdirection, and when all is revealed, I was able to look back and see the clues – whether other readers will see it before I did, I’m not sure; if they don’t, will they feel cheated with the misdirection? I can’t say.

The ending of the story was brutal, bloody, and over a little too cleanly. I like messy endings – I don’t mean blood and gore (although huzzah on that point), but rather I don’t want to have all the answers. Tait doesn’t give us everything, and if I have one misgiving about the telling of this tale, it’s the chapter where the survivors – those who truly know what happened that fateful day – get together to try and figure out what exactly happened and why. Personally, as a reader, I’d rather ruminate on that myself. I was given enough within the confines of the story and the ending to make those connections.

All in all, this was a strong story with a great premise that was delivered in an engaging and sinister way. It isn’t shy in its brutality, and it doesn’t hold back when tackling themes some find disturbing. A special mention goes out to the editor of HodgePodge Press – this was one of the cleanest reads I’ve had in a while, thank you!

On a Goodreads scale, I give Davey Ribbon 4.5/5 stars.

Four and half stars

Review: Carnies by Martin Livings

After the controversy of my last post (yeah, I poked that bear), it’s review time again! And yes, that sentence deserved a ‘screamer’. I’ve read eight novels so far this year, and while that might not be a lot for others, compared to last year, I’m killing it. As an editor, I read a lot — flash fiction, shorts, novellas, novels (in all genres) — but that’s a different kind of reading; approached in an entirely different way. Reading for pleasure, where I can disengage the editor in me and just immerse myself in a story and sidle up to characters, is something I’ve really missed.

So I’ve dived back into my mammoth ‘to read’ pile, and Carnies by Martin Livings (published through Cohesion Press) was at the top of said pile. As with the last couple of reviews, this one also comes with a disclaimer. The Australian spec-fic community is a small and close-knit one – if you don’t know someone, you know of them. Martin is a friend of mine (and all ‘round nice guy – he loves cats), and we’ve also had short stories appear in the same publications. I soon became a fan of his short works, so I was very much looking forward to reading a longer piece. But before we go any further, it’s spoiler alert time:

 

HERE A SPOILER, THERE A SPOILER, EVERYWHERE A SPOILER, SPOILER!

carnies

 

The title alone tells you we’re heading into carnival territory, and I was hoping this was going to be an old-school carnival with all its oddities and ‘freaks’ that had a more… otherworldly feel to it than the almost antiseptic feel of what passes as a carnival today. I wasn’t disappointed.

Carnies follows the story of brothers David and Paul Hampden. David, a journalist in a spiralling career, has gotten wind of a creepy carnival in country Australia that might just revitalise his career. He enlists younger brother Paul, a sometimes photographer, to join him. David and Paul are somewhat estranged; it’s not just the large age gap, but the ultra-religious (read: fire and brimstone) upbringing at their father’s hand after their mother’s disappearance. Both men want to bridge the gap that’s developed between them over the years.

The minute the brothers drive into Tillbrook, they know (as does the reader) that something’s not quite right. It doesn’t take long for that ‘not quite right’ to show itself. A close-call that almost results in a car accident reignites the animosity between the brothers, but it’s put aside when the men head to the carnival that night.

This is the start of the brothers taking different path to the somewhat same destination. The carnies have been in Tillbrook for … well, forever, really, and the townsfolk grudgingly live alongside them. Later in the book we discover that this is due to a pact made a hundred years ago with the town and the carnies’ forebears. The arrival of David, and more specifically Paul, tears the final threads of that fraying pact apart.

At its heart, this is a story of familial bonds, of blood ties that are, in essence, impossible to deny but also as tenuous as a spider’s web. Both Paul and David sit at opposite sides of this blood – both drawn from the same vial but poles apart.

The carnies are werewolves, and while Paul is enamoured with the Alpha female, Rachel, he comes into his own via a bite from a ‘bitch’ further down the totem pole. His fate (destiny?) is sealed, and he finds a sense of belonging he’s been wanting.

werewolf 1

When Paul goes missing, David goes in search, and with the help of a secretive town “council” hell bent on destroying the carnies, manages to step in so much dog doo-doo, you know it’s not going to end well.

After an attempted extraction that fails in spectacular fashion, Paul, giving into his animal instincts, bites his brother in the throat, believing he’s killed him. He doesn’t, of course, and this sets up a finale that pits brother against brother.

It’s during David’s turning we discover the bloodline runs through both men via their mother. David doesn’t turn well; he hears the fundamentalist voice of his father, directing him to his own personal jihad. He does this well, pretty much taking out the Alpha male, Amos, in a very bloody fashion, but his plans unravel in the final confrontation with Paul.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the book – read it, it’s a hell of a finale.

This is a great read, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a werewolf story (and the turn from human to wolf is done remarkably well by Livings), let alone one that engaged me so well. It’s a well-written story, with threads tangling all the players – none of which is ever really as it seems.

It’s not a perfect story (what story ever really is?). When David is bitten, his body isn’t collected with all the others in the clean-up – makes no sense. But my main gripe would be what I call the ‘missing scene’. When David kidnaps the Alpha male, Amos, we only see the aftermath of that confrontation. Amos has been tortured and maimed – it would have been a great to see the dichotomy between the two enemies. What information did David get from Amos? Did he get any at all? It was an opportunity missed, in my mind.

Overall, Carnies is great read, and I was happily immersed in the world Livings had created, and I’d have happily spent more time there. There are no happy endings with this story, but it is open for a sequel (which I would definitely read), but I’m told this won’t be happening. It’s a shame, as it’s a very cool world Livings has created.

Four and half stars

Review: 809 Jacob Street (Marty Young)

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to get around to reading 809 Jacob Street – for no other reason than time. I read my books in order of purchase, and Marty’s book was a little ways down on my ‘To Read’ pile. And yes, I just called him Marty, so this review will come with a disclaimer: while I was not at all involved in the production of 809 Jacob Street, Marty Young is one of my mates and all ‘round good guy. Oh, and to top it all off, 809 Jacob Street (Black Beacon Books) won the Australian Shadows Award in the Novel category a few weeks back.

Righto. Let’s get started, shall we?

And we will begin with the act of a spoiler declaration…so…umm… SPOILER DECLARATION! READ ON AT OWN SPOILERY RISK!

809

809 Jacob Street follows the stories of Byron and Joey Blue (and to a lesser extent, Iain and Hamish), and their interactions with the town of Parkton, or more specifically, the house on Jacob Street. I was first introduced to Joey Blue via a short story Young wrote for ASIM #48 (Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed), so I was very much looking forward to reading more about him. Joey Blue is a down-and-out blue’s singer who now spends most of his time at the bottom of a bottle — so much so, his past is almost a mystery to him. But Joey is aware there’s another part of Parkton, a much darker side that hides in the shadows. And it’s coming for him.

It’s Joey Blue with whom we start the story, and Joey’s in a bad place. His friend Gremlin is dead, but that doesn’t stop him stalking Joey and begging for his help. Joey can see those stuck in the veil between worlds, and they can see him, too. They’re aware, and Joey knows better than anyone that once the Gutterbreed are aware, there’s no end to the torment. Joey must make the trek to 809 Jacob Street.

Next we meet 14-year-old Byron who has just moved from Australia to Parkton. And hates it. His only friends are two outcasts, Iain and Hamish. Right from the beginning, there’s something off about Iain, and as the story progresses, the reader’s given glimpses into a psyche that is truly damaged. Hamish, is more an unwilling participant in his ‘friendship’ with Iain, and like Byron, seems to be carried along on the tidal wave that is Iain’s quest for answers at the house on Jacob Street.

The house has a history of blood and violence known to all in the town, and Young has made 809 almost its own character within the story. Iain taunts Byron with legends surrounding the house, and the pragmatic Byron refuses to believe the hype, which sets him on a path that can only lead to one place.

Both Joey Blue and Byron are on a collision course with the house on Jacob Street, and there’s no doubting it’s not going to end well for them. Young ramps up the tension the further into the book you read, and while I knew we were heading for a blood-soaked ending, I couldn’t wait for all the players to step over the threshold of number 809.

There’s quite a bit of backstory given, especially where the boys—Byron, Iain and Hamish—are concerned. At times the pacing was a little slow, but that could be more to do with Young’s build-up of the house through Byron’s eyes. Still..

We’re given a few chapters from Iain’s point of view, and this furthers the reader’s understanding that nothing good can come of the boy’s entering the house, but you know it’s inevitable – Iain will damn well make it so.

While Joey and Byron live in entirely different worlds, they do cross paths, albeit briefly, but this has weighty consequences toward the end of the book. There’s one particular scene—Joey’s walk up Jacob Street—that still resonates with me. Young outdid himself with this scene – it’s so perfectly and vividly described.

I’m not going to spoil the end of this book for readers, but once in that house… things don’t go well for anyone. But it’s in the house where Young really brings his storytelling finesse to the fore. Tension, action, fear, monsters, inner-demons, the dark… it’s all here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I turned the last page of the book, I was unsure of how I felt about it as a whole. It was a good read with great characters, and some damn fine imagery but there seemed somewhat of a disconnect between Joey Blue and the other players in the story… almost as though they were two stories spliced together that didn’t quite gel, and I think that’s more to do with the structure of the book – once Joey enters the house (about a quarter of the way into the book) he’s almost forgotten until the end.

There were a few more grammar and spelling issues than I’d have liked to have seen in the book, but that could well be the editor in me. Some of those issues, though, should have been picked up.

809 Jacob Street is on the smaller side of the novel-spectrum, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the story could well have supported a higher word count, where we could have delved a little more into Joey’s story and strengthened that connection between Joey and Byron. I’d have gladly read more, and that alone speaks to Young’s work.

I can’t finish without mentioning the illustrations provided in the book. David Schembri, who also created the cover-art, has given the book that extra dimension with internal illustrations throughout. I very much liked them, and it’s always great to see an artist’s rendering of both characters and monsters.

Overall, 809 Jacob Street is a solid first novel for Marty Young, and showcases the author’s ability to create great characters (or in Joey Blue’s case – fantastic ones), and there’s little doubt Young is storyteller who’s well on the rise (some of his phrasing is just beautiful). I’m looking forward to reading more, and if that last chapter is anything to go by, then more there will be.

4 stars

 

Review: The Last Argument of Kings (Joe Abercrombie)

The final book in The First Law trilogy is the longest of the three and the one I read the quickest. Abercrombie had used book two (Before They Are Hanged) very well to set up the mess you knew was coming in The Last Argument of Kings.

When I say ‘mess’, I do so in a positive way. Abercrombie has worked his main characters into corners they may well not survive.

So before you read any further, I best add a spoiler warning:

INCOMING SPOILERY SPOILERS THAT SPOIL

Last Argument of Kings

We begin with the five intrepid questers (Ninefingers, Ferro, Bayaz, Luthar and Longfellow) returning to the Union from their failed journey to the old world. It’s here the decisions Ninefingers, Ferro and Luthar make as they disembark have grave consequences. Abercrombie does well to make what appear to be inconsequential decisions, life-changing ones.

The Union is still fighting for its survival, and with the death of the last royal, those of aristocracy conspire, coerce, cross and double-cross in a bid for the throne. Political machinations have never been so messy (and at times, tiresome), especially amid a war that could see the Union eradicated in its entirety.

Bayaz is his ever-scheming self, and Ferro’s quest for vengeance has tied her to the Magi more than she’d like or care to admit — a lot of which has to do with the mixed emotions she has for Ninefingers. The two had gone their separate ways despite both wanting (internally) to remain together, and for Ninefingers this will come back to haunt him in so many ways.

trilogy

There’s much that needs to be tied up in this book, and as with books one and two, it was Ninefingers, Dogman and his crew, and West who held my attention. They’re in the thick of war. With some Northerners fighting on the side of the Union, loyalties are tested on all sides… or more a blurring of those sides against a common enemy. But even within these ranks, there’s no end of problems – past rivals and scores that must be settled.

As in the previous two books, Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the horror or war. This is especially evident when Ninefingers and his old crew join up with some hill-people to fight Bethod. This is a nasty, bloody battle, and it’s here we really see just how out of control The Bloody Nine is, and what toll that takes on Ninefingers.

The Ghurkish are still knocking on the door of the incompetent Union, and West is still being stymied at every turn by regulations that make little to no sense under the circumstances. Life really did screw West over.

There’s a lot to like and a lot to… meh, about in this book. The character development didn’t quite… well, develop. I wonder if this was intentional on Abercrombie’s part – sometimes leopards don’t change their spots.

There are no happy endings here – not for anyone. I suppose some might argue that Bayaz, the master manipulator, was the only “successful” player here – player being the operative word here. When it’s all revealed in the end, Bayaz just toyed with those around him, motivated solely, it seemed out of boredom (he’s lived a while, this magi). Being as powerful as he is, a god amongst men, he manoeuvres Jezal into Kingship by such roundabout means, it seemed like a waste of countless pages of political manipulation that could well have been spent on the likes of Glotka.

Ninefingers has been my favourite character from the start, but his ending (and that’s still up in the air – pardon the pun) felt like a cop out. Glotka, however, is the stand-out character come the end of this trilogy. Despite the character’s penchant for running his tongue over his gums, I found it was him I was sort of rooting for in the end.

The dreams/aspirations each of the characters began with are shattered, all through actions (and sometimes inaction) and decisions (or indecision) on their own part. They all had crappy lives to begin with, now they’re just in slightly different crappy lives. I guess the moral is: life sux.

Jezal gets far more than he ever wished for in his life, but guess what? When you get all you desire, it never really lives up to its expectation. Same goes for Ferro. Driven by her need for vengeance, it wasn’t much of a surprise that this came back to bite her on the arse.

It does make you think (as Ninefingers and Ferro often ponder) what their lives would have been like had they made different decisions upon their return to the Union. Crappy, sure, as that’s the way life is in these books. For everyone.

When I got to the end of this trilogy, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Book two is definitely the stand out for me. Book one was a painful read until the last 150-odd pages. Book three? Great battle scenes (all of Abercrombie’s battle scenes are beautifully and ghastly choreographed), deaths of some likeable characters (always a plus if an author’s prepared to do that), and an ending that I saw coming earlier than I’d have liked.

Overall, it’s a good trilogy. Not a great one. And I wanted a great one. The dark stuff was dark, and I think that helped get me through some of the more lacklustre parts of plot. Abercrombie’s characters run the gamut of ordinary to wonderful, but I was left with the feeling that this could have been so much more.

Abercrombie writes well, and there are times when his words are pure poetry, but when you’re looking at close to 1800 pages of story… I expected more, but it wouldn’t stop me from picking up another of his stories just to see what tale he can spin.

stars

Review: Topsiders (Scott Tyson)

I very much enjoyed this read but I’m going to begin this review with a disclaimer.

It’s fair to say quite a few of my reviews will have a disclaimer of sorts; as a writer, I have a lot of writerly friends and colleagues who pen the genre I love reading, so there’s bound to be cross-overs from time to time. Scott Tyson falls into the cross-over category. While I’ve worked with Scott on another project, I was not involved with either the pre or post-production of Topsiders. Yes, that is me mentioned in the acknowledgements, but that was for providing general advice of a writing/editorial nature. My only knowledge of the Topsiders story was based solely on the back-cover blurb. I did not receive a free copy of the book – I buy the books that fill (overfill?) my shelves, and do so gladly.

topsiders

Okay, now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with this review. Oh, and big-arse spoiler alert here: I’ll be talking about the end of this story so if you don’t want to be tainted look away now…now I said! Stop peeking through your fingers!

Topsiders is a tale of twos: two worlds, two families, two journeys and two protags. Told through the eyes of father (Bill) and son (Mathew), we follow each as they embark on separate (though intertwined) quests into an abandoned house by the river. You know this isn’t going to end well.

The story started a little slowly for me; the small glimpses I had of the goings-on in the house made me want to be there, not reading of the dynamics between the adult-couples, or the jostling hierarchy of 14-year-old Mathew, his just-older brother Guy, and love-interest Claire. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are well-drawn and believable, I just wanted to get into that house… or rather, beneath it.

As we’re told this story from two points of view, we know that overly-cautious Bill isn’t so keen on investigating the house, but provoked into doing so by his estranged wife Judy, and lured by his lust for family friend Helen (despite Helen’s husband Phil), Bill plunges into the darkness of the house. When the parents go missing, Mathew, Guy and Claire (Helen and Phil’s daughter) head up their own search party.

Tyson does well to flip between the two parties. Access to the world below is through a tunnel hidden behind a picture in the bathroom – our first glimpse of this is done remarkably well, which only heightened my belief that we needed to get to this point sooner. The tunnel is creepy, and you know they shouldn’t enter, but they do (as we’ve all done things we know we really shouldn’t), and here we really see Bill’s cowardice come to the fore.

Mathew and Claire soon follow suit, determined to find their parents and the now-missing Guy. Tyson creates tension here, and his use of monsters-hiding-in-darkness fear is done very well (sometimes what is unseen is more frightening that what is). Bill, now alone, is at a crossroads – he’s seen (kinda) what lies below and he wants out, but Mathew’s arrival forces Bill’s hand.

Once both arrive at the heart of the monster’s home, the horror of what really lies beneath is shown in its total brutality. There are parts of this story that aren’t for the feint-of-heart, but I liked that Tyson didn’t shy away from brutality – this is a horror story and horror happens.

Once in the cavern, we’re shown the true heart of all involved: the monsters, Bill, Mathew and Judy. Tyson shows us that sometimes there’s not a lot of difference between those that live below and the ‘topsiders’. It’s a hard ending, but there’s a truthfulness to it that made the story all the more enjoyable. There’s a Laymon-esque quality to Tyson’s story – a collision of worlds that is honest in its brutality. I don’t want to spoil the ending of this story, but let me say that Tyson doesn’t soften that blow but delivers it how it must be delivered.

My main issue with the story was its slow beginning, and I think part of that goes to the world Tyson’s created beneath that house – this is where the true story lies, and I think the relationships explored at the beginning could well have been given to the reader while the topsiders were underground. I believe it would have amplified their dynamic. I wanted more of that world, and those trying to survive in it (monster and topsider alike), especially when you take into account that last chapter.

Tyson has left this open for a sequel, and given the point of view of that protag, I would gladly read it.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.