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Review: ‘The Fireman’ by Joe Hill

The Fireman by Joe HillJoe Hill’s new novel The Fireman is a strong addition to Hill’s already fantastic bibliography.  It took a number of different formulas that had already been tried and tested in the horror genre and melded them together to make something poignant, throwing in pop culture references that don’t seem to fit and yet only add to the strength of the novel.  What should be a grim and depressing slog through a plague ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland is instead turned in to a novel of hope, strength and the power of community.

The Fireman jumps straight in to the action.  The plague known as Dragonscale, which causes its sufferers to spontaneously burst in to flame, is already well under way when the book begins.  We get to know the characters in the reality that they inhabit while still getting a sense of their characters, without any unnecessary build up or exposition.  We immediately know who our protagonists are and the kind of people we’re dealing with, all without them ever being caricatures of their archetypes.  Each character has a struggle that they must overcome, and even the antagonists are agonisingly human in their misguided beliefs and mental instabilities.  There are good characters and bad characters, but one gets the sense that if the story had been told from the other side those roles could so easily have been reversed.  The titular Fireman is certainly no prince charming, and yet he is a character with such hidden depth and sarcastic wit that we can’t help but relate.  Nurse Willowes herself is a strong female character, fiercely protective, proud and yet equally aware of her own flaws.  Even the peripheral characters have enough depth and back story to make us care about them and relate to their struggles.

The way Hill deals with relationships in The Fireman is quite unique, and individual to each case.  He shows marriage in both its positive and negative aspects.  He doesn’t dwell on sweeping romantic gestures and instead shows romance as organic and often mundane, but beautiful in the every day things that make up a relationship.  He shows how relationships can create strength but also weakness, how it can bind but also tear apart.  The characters remain individuals and unique as part of their relationships, whether they be romantic, communal or familial and ultimately it the actions of individuals that can make or break the ties that bind us.  The Dragonscale itself plays an interesting part in the portrayal of these relationships, responding to human connection in a way that gave the book the unique depth that it has.

This novel is so much more than its genre would suggest.  Hill is the master of humanising the supernatural and using it in such a way as to draw attention to ourselves and our own reality. The Fireman reads like a perfect blend of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Shirley Jackson’s The LotteryThe Walking Dead and Adam Nevill’s The Ritual,  all interspersed with Hill’s signature wit and humanity.  The Fireman isn’t neat, there are no perfectly tied up conclusions, people can be cruel and life unfair, but through it all the novel is full of hope and sympathy.  A perfect novel for an imperfect world.


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Review: ‘The City of Mirrors’ by Justin Cronin

City of Mirrors by Justin CroninThe problem with a book that has its release date pushed back as often as The City of Mirrors, the third book in Justin Cronin’s The Passage Trilogy, is that expectations naturally run very, very high.  Anticipation builds, disappointment is rife with every setback and fans will fall in to two camps, those who re-read the first two books in anticipation with every release date, and those who will just try and hope the characters were memorable enough for them to enjoy the book a few years on.

For those reading The City of Mirrors after a few years hiatus, get ready to be a little disappointed.  I could remember the basic plot points of The Passage and The Twelve, but the details and characters were a little lost on me.  There is very little individual development in this book and it relies heavily on a good knowledge of the books that came before; which is why the years between release really did this novel a disservice.  I might have enjoyed it more had I re-read the first two, but I guess now I’ll never know.  Ultimately The City of Mirrors was quite a major disappointment.

The main issue I had with The City of Mirrors was that everything was just so…convenient.  Back story was told in long exposition, characters found happy endings (deserved or not) through lengthy and numerous dream scenes, there was an element of the fantastical/supernatural which served to conveniently drive the integral plot forward, and for the first time ever we had a stereotyped vampire character, rather than the unique virals of the series.  There was also a lot less of the time jumping and found documents that made the first two novels so fascinating.  It really felt like Cronin was just conveniently trying to tie up loose ends, which he certainly did, but it just didn’t make for the riveting reading I was so desperately hoping for.

The one bit of The City of Mirrors that did stand out for me however was the epilogue.  It introduced new characters with surprising depth, and returned to the tried and true formula of found documents intertwined with narrative.  If the epilogue had been peppered throughout the novel, the same way that the time jumps were used in the first two novels, I think it would have been a far more interesting read.  Even Fanning’s back story, for which we waited so eagerly, could have benefited from some of the same treatment.  In the epilogue I saw what the novel should have been but failed to deliver.

If you’ve read the rest of The Passage Trilogy it’s definitely worth picking up The City of Mirrors.  The story ends in a satisfactory way, and rounds out the plot which will make every completionist happy.  For a book that took this long to come out though I definitely expected a little bit more.

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Review: ‘The Dead House’ by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House, by Dawn KurtagichEverything about The Dead House should have been good. The ‘found footage’ approach is always something different, the premise was fantastic and the atmosphere for most of the book was really spooky and immersive.

But when I got to the end, all I could think was ‘what was the point’? I felt like Dawn Kurtagich bit off a little bit more than she could chew and was trying to write too many different novels all at once. The two (?) main characters were well developed, but with so many satellite characters introduced so early on it was far too difficult to really get a sense of them as characters, especially since the male characters were poorly characterised.

The plot itself was quite formulaic, which in and of itself was not a terrible thing as it did feel like Kurtagich was going somewhere with it, but all of the disparate plot elements simply didn’t come together to form a cohesive whole. The mystery with the parents went nowhere, the two girls and their ‘situation’ didn’t get enough attention, mysterious fires, asylums, disappearances, and don’t even get me started on the rubbish that was the fictional Scottish voodoo cult which could have been left out completely and the strange characterisation of the diary as personified. It was just mystery piled on top of mystery, without any form of resolution and some poorly developed character arc’s.

There is definitely a good book in here. I would go so far as to say there is definitely a great book in here. But in its current form it is completely unrealised. It’s too complicated and ultimately collapses under its own weight.


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Review: ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend's Exorcism CoverGrady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism appeals to the nostalgia of those born around or before the 80’s. The music, the hair the clothes. For that, it was a fun read, but plotwise? Meh.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism suffers from much the same as Grady Hendrix’s previous novel Horrorstor. It was all bark and no bite. The plot lacked substance and development. The relationship between the teenage girls and their friendship was interesting to read about, but ultimately not a lot happened, and what did happen was just a bit silly.

There were moments that could have been quite psychologically poignant, but just ultimately didn’t deliver, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism had none of the truly terrifying moments that we had in Horrorstor. It doesn’t seem fair to compare the two books as the style and plot is vastly different, however as they both exist within the scope of the same genre one could be forgiven that we should have felt a few chills along the way.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism gives very little away. We are left wondering whether the events of the novel were supernatural or simple psychological. This could have been done far more effectively however. There are moments the point to psychological damage and the possibility of abuse, and yet none of these things are never fully explored. There is the suggestion that changes in certain characters’ behaviour are sparked by truly traumatic events in their lives, but again, this is never fully explored. This could have been such a bitter sweet novel of friendship conquering terrible abuse, but instead we had a rather shallow horror story that somehow fell flat.

I enjoyed reading, and I flew through it relatively quickly My Best Friend’s Exorcism, but it was a distraction more than anything. I would have liked a bit more depth to the narrative and the characters, and more than anything a bit more horror. The whole novel just left me feeling a little underwhelmed.


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Review: ‘Hex’ by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

9781444793215 - Hex Cover Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex has done something very rare; he has brought something completely new to the horror genre. Hex feels impressively ancient, while playing on modern sensibilities to create a book that truly is horrific. It is a novel that will make you question yourself and really shows the truth in the old adage ‘hell is other people’.

Hex is a fascinating social analysis, and Heuvelt shows his characters as products of not just their circumstances, but also as individuals. Each character has enough depth to show their motivation, but not too much that the novel is bogged down with excess description. Everything has a place and a purpose, and nothing in his writing is left to chance. Because of this, we are introduced to a timely tale, that even though it uses the premise of an ancient evil feels incredibly modern and relevant. He teaches us that social fear and personal terror create far more horror than any perception of evil ever does on its own. We are our own worst enemies.

This is not to say that Hex is without fault. The entire plot feels dark, similar to the way Scandinavian crime novels feel in their settings, and so the change of location to rural USA for the English version rather than a Dutch setting felt somehow false. There was no reason to change it, and the novel would have felt far more genuine had the author kept the original I think.It also suffers from obvious statements of importance which made the plot feel a little mechanical in places. The plot would otherwise have been smooth, but statements stating how much worse things were going to get broke the flow.

Overall though, I can’t recommend Hex highly enough. It is a tale for our times with moments of true terror, sadness and sympathy. It is emotive, horrifying and subtly beautiful. It is well worth a read.

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud as Hodder & Stoughton featured a quote from my review in their twitter campaign!

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