Don’t judge this book by its cover,. It’s way more original than the artwork suggests. I picked it up despite its cover because I was intrigued by the idea of young people being sent to an island for crimes that they didn’t know that they’d committed and because it was nominated for Best Novel in the 2020 Ladies Of Horror Fiction Awards. It was in great company, not least of which were ‘Mexican Gothic’ and ‘The Sun Down Motel’.
Based on the reviews I read, I expected it to be a good solid set-on-a-creepy-island-we-can’t-escape-from horror story. It was that, in a way, but it was so much more disturbing than I’d expected it to be and much to original and genre-spanning to be easily labelled.
The thing that gripped me at the start of the book was how horribly plausible it all was. I won’t share here the nature of the new crime that Robin committed because part of the early suspense of the book was finding that out. When I did found out, my first reaction was, ‘Oh God, we’re so close to having this happening’. My second reaction was, ‘If it did happen, I’d end up on the island, wouldn’t I?‘ There’s a strong dystopian feel to the story that is all the more disturbing for being low-key.
Much of the storytelling is done through very realistic dialogue which somehow reinforces the sense of being in a waking nightmare. Here’s an example of the kind of writing I liked.
“I think perhaps there’s something in the air in this place that engenders strange intimacies. Accelerated intimacies. Like real prison. Or reality television.”
Then, just before the halfway mark, the sense of menace in the book started to change from being on the wrong side of an authoritarian regime mired in corporate corruption, to something older, darker and much more dangerous threatening the people on the island.
I thought the melding of ancient threat and modern dystopia was very well done. We got to know the main characters well enough for them to be more than plot devices. Most of what they did, the did because of who they are and how they felt about each other. The supernatural part is a bit of a leap but less so than werewolves or vampires or cape-wearing heroes who can fly and the action scenes were very well done.
Is this a horror book? Well, it has monsters in it (human and otherwise), it looks at how true evil demands things of us that we can’t refuse but will regret and it’s filled with a sense of doom, So, yes, it is a horror book.
It’s also a good speculative fiction story with ideas in it that are deeply disturbing but which don’t draw on horror tropes to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
I was impressed and I’ll be back for more. I’m trying ‘A Press Of Feathers’ next.
Bea has it – more than ever, since her husband left her.
Lou has it – has it in spades, since she lost her job and her flat and had to move back in with her parents.
And whoever’s been murdering and mutilating the men whose bodies keep mounting up in Bea and Lou’s city – they’ve got it, too.
But when Bea moves to The Gates, an exclusive new estate with a strange and troubled history, and Lou’s interest in the murders leads her right to Bea’s door, the two women find the lines between nightmare and reality, history and myth and sanity and madness blurring around them – and a primeval entity born from the chaos of creation with her own appetite for rage rising up to meet them from the ground below.
She sees them. And she’s hungry.