The Mortecarni: Book Review

Stories about ravenous undead are a dime a dozen, and they all have pretty much the same core plot: A virus/disease/catastrophe unleashes mindless, flesh-eating revenants, and the humans who remain fight to stay alive. Every zombie book I’ve read is set in the present day and describes a post-apocalyptic world. It’s popular because it’s familiar and readers know what to expect. For prolific readers like me, the repetition gets old. When authors shake things up and deviate from the norm, it gets my attention.

The Mortecarni by Kelly Evans is a unique take on the undead, set in an actual apocalypse—the Black Death—that killed 30-90% of the population of Eurasia. I received a reading copy with no cover, no blurb, and no idea what I was getting into, so I was completely surprised by it.

The prologue is vague but tantalizing. Why were a group of soldiers and archaeologists tearing apart a monk’s grave? One scientist mentions that the monk was a physician, and the book they find in his tomb is a triumphant discovery. To my surprise, the next chapter plunged me into medieval Wales, circa 1347 and my question from the prologue is answered in the first sentence:

“My name is Brother Maurice and I hunt the mortecarni, pathetic creatures unnaturally risen from death to pray upon the innocent.”

My interest was immediately piqued. I have enough knowledge of Latinate languages to know “dead flesh” when I see it, but…a Monk? In 1348? Hunting zombies? Part of me was thrilled, the other part cringing. Would the author do right by Medieval history or was this going to be full of “olde tyme” myths that are endemic in modern media?

The third son of a wealthy merchant, Maurice is taught to read by his mother and learns rudimentary healing from farmers and “wise women”. Since he has two older brothers to carry on the family business, he’s sent to a monastery for further education. His talent in the healing arts convinces the Brothers to send him to study at Salerno’s Schola Medica Salernitana to become a physician. There, he befriends Falayh, an Arab raised in Spain as a Christian.

Brother Maurice’s holy duty takes him across Europe to teach the skills in healing to his monastic brothers so they might heal the sick in body and spirit. At one stop, he encounters an illness never seen before: an infection of rotting flesh that robs the afflicted of their senses and drives them to attack others. The infection spreads, and the only cure he can find is death. The monastery is ravaged, and when word reaches Pope Clement in Avignon, Maurice is sworn to secrecy and sent on a mission to end the mortecarni—by the sword or by a cure—and it endangers both his life and his faith.

I was riveted and read the book in two sittings. It’s like the author took historical fiction, mystery, coming-of-age, and zompoc, and combined them all like an alchemist to make something new and different. Brother Maurice’s conflict over faith and duty is heart-wrenching. And oh, what he must do. Evans assails us with horror that doesn’t turn away from the blood, madness and rotting flesh that this kind of story calls for. It’s definitely not for the squeamish. Even day-to-day “medicine” was a horror with leeches, bleedings, and the worst: draining the buboes of plague victims to save their lives. Evans does her research, and you can get a taste of it on her Twitter page. Her feed is full of links to medieval arts, sciences, and history, and she also writes historical fiction in addition to horror.

Evans did an excellent job showing this historical period, and at the same time acknowledging the realities of the age, like literal witch hunts and the erasure of women, extreme measures taken to stop the bubonic plague, and the indifference of otherwise “holy” men.

One thing I loved was that this book can easily stand alone, although the author’s site shows a sequel in the works. The story wraps up in the modern age, where the answer to the mystery Brother Maurice pursued is rediscovered. We don’t need to know who these modern-day people are; we’ve seen their struggle play out in the 14th century and know what they’re up against. The words of a humble monk will once again have meaning, his work and soul redeemed.

It’s good stuff, so if you’re looking for a completely different take on the zombie genre, this is the book for you. Kelly Evans is an author to watch!

THE LOG HOUSE (Guest Review)

“I know that they are strong and fast. They don’t feel fear, don’t even know what it means. You can’t ward them off with charms and urban legends. They can climb and run and they never tire. Only the light can distract them, and once that has gone, you have nothing. They will see you, and once they have, they will never stop until they have you. If they knew we were here, we’d already be dead.”
-Penny, protagonist of The Log House

Imagine a forest that loses its serenity the longer you inspect every individual piece of its whole, evolving into a looming fear that can only be alleviated one of two ways.

Pull your focus back to ignorance and rejoin the lie of serenity, or keep looking closer to learn the truth, no matter how ugly it may be.

That’s where Baylea puts you, not only within the story, but with the characters as well.

Thanks to an event through Pigeonhole, I was fortunate enough to read Baylea Hart’s debut novel in advance.

And what a hell of a debut novel it is.

Though her first novel, Baylea is no newcomer to the horror scene. From writing and directing short films to having her work published in horror-writers.com’s very own anthology “Dreams of Desolation”, she’s had her toe dipped in the bloody waters for some time now.

The Last of Us meets The Village meets Children of Men, The Log House is a survival horror on a quaint scale. A whatnot of suspenseful dread lurking in tranquility that haunts you with lingering imagery.

After an unexpected attack, Penny finds herself on her own, separated from the safety of her village, unable to be rescued. Now she must journey through the cold wilderness alone and find a way back home to her son before her passage is closed off for the winter, sealing her fate as well. But is she truly alone?

Penny’s mission is one filled with questions, doubt, and unquestionable fear. And as each footstep she takes reveals more truths about her past and present, the more uncertain the future becomes.

Penny herself is flawed, but to what extent is the driving force. Her heart is cold and buried, but does it still beat? And what buried it so deeply?

Ultimately, it’s not about Penny’s goal to survive the living rot from a dying world and rescue her son, but rather or not if she deserves to be reunited with him. What does the darkness and the silence hold for Penny in addition to “them”?

To say more would rob the reader of the experience of learning the ugly truths, for it’s not what we see that frightens us, but what we don’t see. The unraveling of the unknown is the driving force. But all questions, all paths, all conflicts and resolutions, all begin and end at one place.

The Log House

You can find her book at:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

And follow Baylea on her site or at Twitter

Book Review: Feral

Synopsis:
Allie Hilts was still in high school when a fire at a top-secret research facility released an airborne pathogen that quickly spread to every male on the planet, killing most. Allie witnessed every man she ever knew be consumed by fearsome symptoms: scorching fevers, internal bleeding, madness and uncontrollable violence. The world crumbled around her. No man was spared, and the few survivors were irrevocably changed. They became disturbingly strong, aggressive, and ferocious. Feral.

Three years later, Allie has joined a group of hardened survivors in an isolated, walled-in encampment. Outside the guarded walls the ferals roam free, and hunt. Allie has been noticing troubling patterns in the ferals’ movements, and a disturbing number of new faces in the wild. Something catastrophic is brewing on the horizon, and time is running out. The ferals are coming, and there is no stopping them.

Review:
My first encounter with James DeMonaco’s work was the film Skinwalkers, which I hated. However, The Purge was fantastic, so I started reading Feral with a hopeful attitude. Having Brian Evenson as a co-writer was encouraging since I’ve read Father of Lies and enjoyed it. I’m also a fan of post-apoc fiction; another thumb on the scale for this book.

Feral started out strong. The confusion and fear during the outbreak are realistically portrayed. Scenes of sudden and horrific transformations are vividly described, as are the deaths of those unlucky enough to get caught by the feral packs of crazed men. The first few chapters hooked me, and I settled in for the rest of the book.

Allie is a bonafide badass, using her old skills as a lacrosse star in all new ways. She’s a lone hunter type of woman; hyper-alert and determined to keep her young sister and herself alive. Small camps of women who survived the outbreak live in fortified camps, keeping in touch via radio. Allie is one of the few who are brave (or reckless) enough to spend days outside the minefields and barricades while she thins out the feral population and scavenges for supplies. The ferals have a “hive” of their own and have taken over the river docks, where no woman dares approach for fear of literally being torn apart. It doesn’t take much to foresee the coming conflict.

There’s a lot to like in this book. It’s certainly entertaining. Narrow escapes, tense chase scenes, and extreme zom– er, feral-killing rampages will satisfy the bloodlust factor. The women in the camp do their best to survive while trying to create a sense of normalcy for the children and young teens among them. It’s no surprise that all of them are traumatized, but many of them pair up for comfort. There’s a romantic subplot, but revealing the details involves spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say.

Another bonus comes from the author’s skill at screenwriting. We get multiple points of view on the story that play out like scenes in a film. The storytelling here feels cinematic, so people who are more accustomed to watching TV and movies will be right at home here. As a book, it works, but it would be a kickass movie; enough so that I wonder if this started out as a screenplay.

It’s easy to see that Feral leans heavily on zombie and post-apocalyptic tropes. Catastrophic outbreak of an experimental pathogen? Horrific transformations into a bestial form? Hordes of indiscriminate killers who want to eat human flesh? Band of plucky survivors who figure out they can mask their scent with the blood of dead ferals? Forbidden romance and putting one’s life before someone you love? It’s all been done before. But as I’ve strongly hinted throughout, if you’re a fan of zompoc fiction, you’re going to enjoy Feral.

Book Review: Whisper Lake

Title: Whisper Lake (The Turning, Book 2)
Author: Micky Neilson
Publisher: Self-Published on Amazon
Genre: Horror
Format: eBook (410 pages)

Whisper Lake Micky Neilson Werewolf Novel
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary (from Amazon): “In this prequel to The Turning, the year is 1991. Jason Emblock, a U.S. soldier in Iraq, is sent back home to the small town of Whisper Lake after a vicious animal attack. But the beast that bit him was no ordinary animal. Now Jason is becoming aware of the changes–enhanced hearing and sense of smell–even as he reconnects with his lover, Celine Armistead, and seeks to confront his childhood friend, CJ, who tried to force himself on Celine while Jason was away. CJ’s life has its own complications: drug addiction and a strained affiliation with the violent drug trafficker Boil, whose schemes threaten to destroy Whisper Lake. But the deadliest threat may not come from Boil; because the beast within Jason… is about to slip its leash.”

Whisper Lake opens with an author’s note: I know you’re thinking, ‘If Whisper Lake is a prequel, shouldn’t I read it before The Turning?’ Actually, I started this series in the middle, but I intended it that way. The twists and turns will be more meaningful if you read The Turning first, then Whisper Lake. And yes, there is already a sequel in the works.”

When I devoured Micky Neilson’s previous book, The Turning, I couldn’t put it down. It was a solid throwback to old-school wolf lore with a few fresh twists, and Whisper Lake is no different. Jason Emblock begins his story like most protagonists in this subgenre: as the victim of a vicious attack that nearly kills him. From there he returns to his hometown to recover and deals with the burdens that he now has to bear. In fact, the characters’ struggle to accept the fallout from their decisions is a consistent running theme throughout the story, and it serves the narrative well.

The overall tone of Whisper Lake differs from that of The Turning, in that the latter was a more suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, centered on the POVs of no more than three major characters (and quick vignettes of minor ones). Whisper Lake puts the spotlight on a wider array of actors on the stage. With that being said, no one player is lost in the game. From tragic hero Jason to stubborn survivor Celine to the troubled CJ, every character is fully realized and given ample attention. While the narrative changes POV from chapter to chapter, it’s never confusing, and always compelling. Neilson treats everyone as an essential portion of the story. There’s no gristle here; everything serves the narrative.

The main antagonist, greasy druglord Boil, is a far different villain than the calculating Alexander (the assassin) of The Turning. Boil is a physically repulsive sleazeball who has, through his legitimate transportation front and illegal drug-running business, secured a financial grip upon the small town. He has the gift of gab and knows how to whip a crowd up into a frenzy. He bypasses traditional channels of PR and presents himself directly as a man of the people. Despite his facade, Boil is not a gentleman, and accepts zero responsibility for his actions. The current political relevance of this antagonist, whether intentional on the author’s part or not, made me loathe him with a passion. Nielson has a gift for crafting great villains, and Boil is right on the money. He succeeds in doubling the tension in the story and driving the external conflicts that the protagonists are going through, in addition to their internal struggles.

While Whisper Lake is a werewolf tale at it’s core, it avoids treading the same worn moonlit path done in werewolf stories past by interweaving its lycanthropy with high drama and elements of crime thriller. While the same struggle exists between humanity and primal desires that we’ve seen since The Wolfman, the protagonists (and an antagonist) mirror the same conflict in non-wolf-related decisions. Whisper Lake takes a fresh turn in wolf lore, making connections with an ancient Babylonian goddess and a second deity who harnesses the power of the moon. Neilson has, again, made a slight but fitting contribution to the werewolf mythos.

There is a point early in the story in which it’s revealed that a female character had terminated her pregnancy some time in her past. I want to take a moment to sing praises about the delicacy with which abortion was discussed in Whisper Lake. The character who had terminated her pregnancy was neither a hero nor a villain as a result of it, and when a friend came to her asking for advice for a similar situation, she gave the best advice she could, which was to relate her own experience and say that it was the right decision for her, at the time. She offered the most important thing she could in such a situation: her support. Kudos to the author for treating the issue with finesse and not exploiting it for sensation. Considering the themes of the book (bearing the burden of consequences and accepting responsibility for the things that happen in one’s life), this bit of backstory makes sense and gives a fair bit of insight into the character’s decisions later on.

Whisper Lake delivers the goods and expands upon elements hinted at in its predecessor. I heartily recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Turning, and anyone who fancies a taut bit of wolf lore by extension. 5/5 stars. Grab it on Amazon.

Book Review: Covenant

The roots of the horror genre are tangled around humanity’s fear of death and the abominations that transcend it. Vampires, zombies, and demons all fit this description, but the earliest, and possibly the most widespread in human culture, are the ghosts of the unquiet dead. While many authors turn their imaginations toward new ways to terrify, ghost stories have scared us for centuries untold. Allan Leverone has delivered a solid example of such a tale.

The book is a quick read, thanks to the author’s skill in building tension and keeping the story well-balanced between Lindie and the Padgett brothers. Part I sets the tone by introducing the villain and his campaign of cruelty and depraved acts of murder. However, these first few chapters don’t reflect the tone of the rest of the book.

Part II takes us to modern times. Justine and Lindie Cooper move to New Hampshire, buy their first house, and begin fixing it up. During their remodeling work, Justin Cooper dies in a suspicious accident, and Lindie is the prime suspect. She knows she’s innocent, but a local detective won’t give up until all his avenues of inquiry are exhausted. She also notices oddities in her house. Now convinced the place is haunted, she hires Verna Watson, a local medium for help.

Lindie Cooper is easy to empathize with as she struggles to grieve her husband while trying to discover the cause of his death. She has no friends, save for her new boss, and the questions surrounding Justin’s death has everyone whispering. But the town has secrets of its own. When the drug-running Padgett brothers run afoul of the local police, the lines between crimes of the past, murder, and supernatural activity get crossed.

While the plot was predictable, I was surprised by the characters. Lindie’s story examines not only her grief but also her struggle to overcome ostracism and find a friend amidst so many unfriendly faces. Even the detective breaks out of his hard-boiled shell to confront possibilities he never expected.

Overall, Covenant is an entertaining novel that fans of ghost stories and paranormal activity will enjoy. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it is a skillfully written, page-turner of a ghost story with great characters, a terrifying villain, and a satisfying ending.


Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Justin and Lindie Cooper move into their dream home, a rambling, oddly-shaped “Handyman’s Special” in Covenant, New Hampshire, they are completely unaware of their house’s violent and tragic history.

Within a week, Justin Cooper is dead under suspicious circumstances, and Lindie must deal not just with her grief, but with a police investigator—and a town—convinced she is trying to get away with murder.

But that’s not her biggest problem. Because evil resides in her home, an entity that is more than a century old.

And it’s angry, relentless and determined to eliminate Lindie Cooper next.