Growing Dark by Kristopher Triana, Narrated by Kristopher Triana, Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, Michael Zapcic, Kevin McGuire, Thomas Mumme, and Jennifer Mumme

Growing Dark truly showcases the eclectic range Triana is capable of in a way a reader would otherwise only discover if they took the time to read half a dozen books. Running the gamut from intense cosmic horror to something that could be considered kid-friendly, there’s no doubt any lover of dark fiction will find something to love in this short collection.
From the Storms, A Daughter kicks everything off, sharing the story of a town that’s been going through hard times, and they’re only getting harder as the region gets flooded. First responders in boats are struggling to locate stragglers to take them to safety, but what they find instead is evidence that there’s more to fear than the water.
Eaters is a post-apocalyptic excursion into the remnants of the old world, as a small party of hunters is clearing the area of zombies. As with most tales like that, things don’t go smoothly. Triana manages to bring some originality to the topic, and an ending that readers/listeners are unlikely to see coming.
Growing Dark is a coming-of-age tale gone wrong, as a farm boy surrounded by sickness and decay desperately wants to prove to his father that he can be a man. Sometimes being a man involves making some hard choices, and sometimes they’ll be bad choices as well.
Reunion is an insightful story of childhood regrets and how the mistakes we make can haunt us well into adulthood, altering the courses we travel and where we ultimately end up.
Before the Boogeymen Come was the most surprising inclusion in this collection. Triana entertains readers as he breathes life into the monsters who plague the imaginations of young children before media and experience provide new monsters to replace the old.
The Bone Orchard is a heartbreaking western tale that could be read, depending on the reader’s perspective, as being either pro-life or pro-choice in its message. An old shootist returns to an old haunt and old love, only to discover there’s a sinister secret behind keeping the brothel running smoothly.
Soon There’ll Be Leaves is a character study framed by multiple horrors, the most potent of which being reflection on a life not well-lived and the looming loss of family. Returning to a place he’d sooner never see again, our protagonist is approached by an old flame who proves the adage that one can never go home again, as an attempted affair takes an unforeseen twist.
Video Express is a nostalgic exploration of the video rental stores of our youth and condemnation of how we quickly turned our back on the family-run establishments in favor of places where we could easily snag the newest titles.
Giving from the Bottom is another character study, this time focused on the horrors of everyday life and the gradual erosion of both one’s ability to care and one’s will to live when nothing seems to turn out as expected.
The collection ends with the strangely epic Legends, a vision of an afterlife that is not at all what one might expect. In Triana’s captivating narrative, we discover that the dead–if they’re famous or infamous enough–become eidolons of a sort. Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin come together as paragons of what generations of moviegoers and fans imagined them to be, and as such, they are bestowed with purpose and power to protect the world from infernal entities who may have similarly familiar faces. For me, Legends was the best of the whole collection, providing a glimpse into a world I could see the author fleshing out into a much longer piece.
The narrations provided by Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, and Kristopher Triana himself were the best of the bunch. Triana especially did an excellent job of providing his characters with distinctive voices, and in the case of Before the Boogeymen Come a level of caricature that was enjoyable. The additional narrators, Michael Zapcic, Thomas Mumme, Jennifer Mumme, and Kevin McGuire were satisfying as well, just not as memorable as those provided by the three previously mentioned.


Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana, narrated by Dani George

If you’ve ever asked yourself what American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman would be like if he were a teenage girl living in the current age as opposed to Wall Street of the 1980s, Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana is the book for you. I’m only joking a little bit with that introduction because–much like Ellis’s most popular character–Kim is pretty, popular, and superficially passing as being not only normal but successful and even a role model of sorts. This is, of course, a facade.
As the story unfolds, Kim goes from being a calculating, manipulative sociopath dwelling on suicide–as much out of boredom and a desire to shock/stun the people who believe they’re close to her as very real depression over the fact that nothing brings her any sort of pleasure in life–to a cold-blooded monster. The turning point seems to be that pivotal decision in many teenager’s lives, whether they should have sex and with whom.
Developing a fixation on serial killers as well as torture-porn movies (and actual pornography featuring torture) and finding a spark of pleasure in these things, it’s no real surprise that everything goes dark and brutal from there. She determines her first time should be with someone she has to break down and degrade to get there, and she sets her sights on her sex-ed teacher. When sex itself turns out to be less than the life-changing experience she was hoping for, instead of letting it depress her further, she finds entirely new ways to get herself off.
Destroying lives, creating turmoil that spreads everywhere around her, and always seeking an even greater thrill, Kim finally discovers that catharsis she was desperately searching for. As she decides to go “full brutal” everything continues getting worse for those surrounding her.
Dani George provides fantastic narration that captures the coldness and cruelty of Kim as well as breathing life into the vapid superficiality of her peers and friends–if one could consider these people to be either of those things.
I’m torn, because I appreciate the way this book turns the psychopathic killer trope on its head in a sense, transitioning the usual victim of these sorts of stories into the perpetrator. The skillful storytelling is the same as I’ve come to expect from Triana, along with the depravity and attention to gritty, unsettling details. Those things are fantastic elements.
On the other hand, I feel like Kim is sort of an exaggerated, almost sexist caricature of the sort of girls all rape-culture assholes like to pretend are all over the place. You surely know what I mean if you’ve bothered to torture yourself by reading incel screeds and the like. To a certain sort of guy, the world is populated by girls/women who will manipulate, dominate, and take what they want at any cost. For that sort of person, all girls are a stone’s throw from threatening to cry rape if they aren’t getting everything they want, or just because it’s funny to ruin someone’s life. To guys like that, most (if not all) girls are secretly very much like Kim…excepting the murderous streak. In that sense, I find the character and the story to be a bit problematic in the same way I would if the protagonist were a caricature of the mythical “welfare queen” from the Reagan era…as it sort of breathes life into an ignominious stereotype that should be allowed to die the off-screen death it deserves.
Taking the good with the bad, I still can’t help but recommend this book to anyone who enjoys extreme horror. The best sort of horror is the kind that makes you uncomfortable and forces you to examine things you’d rather ignore, and that’s precisely what you get with Full Brutal.