Midnight Mass provides readers with an alternate history of our world. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, a scourge of vampires rapidly overwhelmed Europe and Asia before turning their sights on America. The population centers of the East Coast are the first to go dark, as those in positions of power are quickly turned by the calculating monsters who seek absolute dominion over the world. Everything seems hopeless as the remaining human beings are slaughtered or captured and treated as livestock, recruited as daytime enforcers for the undead, or driven into hiding as they await the inevitable end. This is where F. Paul Wilson’s novel begins. In a devastated town on the Jersey shore, a demoralized Rabbi desperately seeks the assistance of his best friend, a disgraced Catholic priest, to restore both the faith and resolve to his former congregation. A desecrated church awaits them, but with the power of the cross being one of the only weapons against the undead, Rabbi Zev Wolpin hopes this one priest can spark the fire that will cleanse the community of the evil that’s taken hold. But maybe Revelation 13:4 is right, in that it will take one like the monsters to make war against them. But it’ll take more than that. There’s a deadly secret that could turn the tide of this war between the living and the undead, and it’ll be up to Father Joe and his unlikely compatriots to uncover the truth and bring it to the light of day. Midnight Mass is an action-packed narrative that manages to provide a great deal of character study along the way. Father Joe’s transformation throughout the story is both heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time. The characters populating Wilson’s novel are spectacularly well-developed and realistic. An anarchistic, lesbian atheist isn’t going to lose her skepticism and begin believing in God or the power of Christ simply because crosses have the power to harm the undead. A nun isn’t going to cast aside a lifetime of faith and assumptions regarding right and wrong solely because the world has become a dark place filled with creatures of the night. A faithful Rabbi is bound to suffer a crisis of faith when the holy symbols of the Christian faiths have a power that’s notably absent from those of other world religions. A lifetime of seeing the world a certain way isn’t something that can be flipped off like a switch. Wilson acknowledged that in this book. It influenced his characters to make them feel more three-dimensional than I’ve seen in other vampire fiction, where the old myths and folklore are relevant. Jamie Renell’s narration is excellent, especially the performance of Father Joe’s dialogue, nailing that gruff New England accent. The accents of the various European vampires are portrayed well enough that they don’t sound cartoonish or silly. Overall, the whole narrative flows well with Renell’s voice work, and I think this was a great pairing.
While Christopher Buehlman doesn’t add anything new to the heavily-tread mythology of the vampire, what he does provide us with is a fresh and captivating story with characters that come to life–or undeath–and a gritty 1970s New York that feels tangible, even if we do spend a significant amount of our time in the sewers and subway tunnels beneath the city itself. The admittedly unreliable narration of the tale from Joseph H. Peacock is both entertaining and, at times, depressingly bleak. A spoiled child from an affluent family in the early 20th century, Joey was accustomed to getting what he wanted, and when his mother insists that the cook who adores him has to go, Joey doesn’t take kindly to the replacement. A successfully implemented plan to remove the new cook from his household triggers the cascade of events that leads to Joey becoming a vampire at the young age of 14. Forty years later, Joey lives beneath Manhattan with an eclectic assortment of other vampires when he first sees the children mesmerizing their victims on the subway. Concerned with the hazard these child vampires pose, Joey’s undead family begins the hunt for these strange and unexpected creatures. Monstrous, cruel, and driven by a sort of nightmarish glee, the children represent a greater threat than any of the other vampires imagined. Buehlman weaves a fantastically disarming narrative filled with twists and turns that keep the reader reeling. Characters are developed only for the reader to discover that they have to dispel what they thought they knew. Minor details take on sinister connotations as new information gets revealed. As a narrator for his book, Buehlman displays a keen talent for accents and speech patterns, thoroughly gifting his characters with distinct personalities that come through the tone and inflection of his voice. I’ve heard lower-quality narration from numerous “professional” narrators and voice actors in the past.
You’re a 15-year-old boy living with a foster family when you awaken to the sounds of shattering glass followed by what can only be violence. This isn’t the first time your short life has been punctuated with instances of horrific bloodshed, and if you choose to join the band of peculiar killers reveling in the chaos they’ve created in what is your third home in only a third as many years, this most certainly will not be the last. Don’t worry, this isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story, and this pivotal decision is taken out of your hands and placed in the skilled, albeit sadistic custody of Chandler Morrison. Entering the dizzying narrative of Until the Sun, you’ll be swept along currents of blood, strange drugs, and adolescent hormones until you find yourself standing dazed, in the sunlight of a new day, waiting for the ride to end. Morrison thoroughly captures that sense of being caught up in a life that feels entirely out of your control. This extends so far as to include the fact that, as a reader, you’ll see the final moments coming long before our protagonist does…and you’ll experience sensations that range from pity to heart-wrenching sympathy as you witness events unfolding. We’re forced to wonder–if we’re being honest with ourselves–whether we’d be any more capable of wresting control from those who steer us along the destructive path ahead of us if we’d experienced the same tragic and disorienting life of young Casanova. I suspect we’ll never know, and we should be grateful for the fact that the dreadful sequence of events befalling that young man could only happen in fiction. Morrison provides us with a vampire story that is both more and less than that. Until the Sun is a dark, twisted, and perverse coming-of-age tale that abruptly detours us through the worst possible paths to reach the conclusion. A conclusion, I might add, that is equal parts hilarious and cruel in both its predictability and subversion of what a reader might expect when first choosing the book. John Wayne Comunale’s narration is effective in bringing to life the characters who often feel like caricatures of people we might have known in our own lives, or maybe people we’ve been at different points in our lives. There probably isn’t a narrator who would have been better suited for this drug-fueled, bloody, and irreverent combination of various horror subgenres.
If like me, of the two major vampire films released in 1987, you prefer the Kathryn Bigelow directed Near Dark over Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, Knuckle Supper is the vampire novel for you. The Lost Boys may have had the audience and the soundtrack, but Near Dark had the brutality, originality, and grittiness that befitted the monsters at the heart of the story. Knuckle Supper carries that tradition into 21st-century horror literature. Stepek writes vampires the way one might expect from someone who wants to take the monsters back from the L. J. Smiths and Stephenie Meyers of the world, restoring them to the darkness and underground where they belong. It’s difficult for me to describe what he’s put together in these pages that race past the reader at a rapid-fire pace. Knuckle Supper is, in effect, Anne Rice meets Irvine Welsh, Near Dark meets Requiem for a Dream, and a little bit The Warriors meets 30 Days of Night. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I honestly don’t know how else I can try to describe it without just reading the book to you, and we know I’m not going to do that. We meet RJ and Dez as they’re preparing to murder a pimp in the home they’re squatting in, a steadily depreciating house once belonging to a former child star turned heroin addict. RJ, Dez, and the rest of the Knucklers aren’t your typical Hollywood vampires, even though they live in Los Angeles. Blood isn’t their only addiction. They need heroin to survive. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as spiking a needle into their veins to get their fix. They need blood to carry the high into their starving, desiccated internal organs. Enter the pimp they’re about to have for supper. The (almost) 13-year-old prostitute carelessly tossed into the bathroom is all but forgotten as RJ and Dez make a mess of the place in their desperate chase for a fix. Against his better judgment, and displaying more humanity than his peers, RJ decides not to kill the young girl. This act of uncharacteristic decency is how Bait becomes part of his family. It’s also how everything begins to spiral out of control, ultimately bringing RJ face-to-face with The Cloth, an organization he’d dismissed as nothing but a vampire’s boogeyman, and the painful truth at the core of what RJ actually is. Drew Stepek introduces readers to a Los Angeles populated by a different sort of gang, consisting of a wholly different kind of gangster from what we’ve become familiar with from popular culture. The city is divided up between tenuously allied gangs of vampires, each feeding and dealing on their own turf. Brutal, far from immortal, and impulsive, Stepek’s vampires are prone to massive errors in judgment, and it’s only a matter of time before the flimsy alliances fracture and violence ensues. There’s more to this story than drug addiction and graphic violence, though there’s plenty of both. There’s also a depth and character to this story that underscores the superficial, splattery elements of the narrative.
You can obtain a copy of Knuckle Supper as well as the sequel, Knuckle Balled, by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device: The link to this title on both Godless and Amazon are below:
The newest book from Thomas R. Clark hits the ground running and never lets up. Beginning with a series of gruesome murders, The God Provides spins the reader a grimly beautiful tale rooted in old-world folklore and modern monster mythology. The blend of fantasy and horror is so perfectly combined as to produce something that transcends both categorizations. What you end up with is a narrative that feels like the modern-day retelling of a forgotten epic masterpiece. At the same time, Clark manages to craft a thrilling tale that feels like something fresh and new that only now sees the light of day. Delving into the McEntire family’s history–which isn’t at all what it might initially seem–we discover a community in rural upstate New York where ancient gods, witches, werewolves, fae, and other supernatural creatures thrive. All of this in plain view of any who might pass through the region…assuming they aren’t the sacrifices provided by the titular god. Take one part The Wicker Man (the original, not the god awful remake) and Midsommar, another part The Howling, and toss in some Macbeth and Beowulf for flavor, and you’ll have a recipe that might bring you within spitting distance of this story. You’ll also want to borrow a smidge of the considerable literary prowess Clark brings to the table. If splatter-folk is a genre…this is the introduction to that world.