This was my first experience with Malfi, and I must say I’m rather pleased. I picked up this book after reading his free short, “The Boy in the Lot”,This was my first experience with Malfi, and I must say I’m rather pleased. I picked up this book after reading his free short, “The Boy in the Lot”, which serves a prequel to The Narrows, and was just vague and intriguing enough to pique my interest.
So this is a vampire story. OMG SPOILERS! Yeah, that’s not really a spoiler to anyone who’s read anything about vampires before. However, I’m pleased to say that Malfi has taken the theme and created something new, and very creepy, with it. The vampires in this novel are entirely different from any I’ve read about before, and this approach is very welcome.
The novel takes place in the small town of Stillwater, Maryland, a slowly decaying village situated in the foothills. I really enjoyed Malfi’s depiction of the town, as while the setting is quite specific, it really could have been anywhere. We’ve all been to places like this: little towns away from the mainstream, cut off, disregarded, or otherwise left to die. These places are everywhere; bleak evidence of our forgetful society.
Our story begins by following two young boys as they leave their elementary school and go in search of a dead deer carcass in the forest. This small bit of characterization really struck a chord with me, as that’s just such a little boy thing to do, isn’t it? Little details like this can really sell (or alienate, if used improperly) the readers on your characters, and Malfi handles this very well. We follow our two young heroes as they approach the abandoned plastics factory on the edge of town, and one witnesses something strange within.
After the first chapter, Malfi switches to a multiple viewpoint, revolving among many of the citizens of Stillwater, some good, some bad, all real. The main character is Ben, a police officer who ended up settling in the town after the deaths of his parents despite his ambitions to do more with his life. This is another character type we should all be familiar with by now, the dutiful son who stays behind for the sake of his family, disregarding his own hopes and dreams in the process. However, Malfi’s deftly sympathetic portrayal of Ben sets the character apart from what has come to be a familiar trope.
The action in the novel is more of a slow burn. The eerie events and disappearances that plague Stillwater after the intrusion of the Other build one upon another, ratcheting up the tension inexorably. The pace of the novel picks up noticeably toward the end as our remaining characters slowly realize the situation they’ve found themselves in and take steps to stop it.
I don’t think I’d be wrong to draw a comparison with Salem’s Lot here. Both stories feature a small town fragmenting and falling apart after the appearance of a mysterious entity. I would argue that The Narrows is actually the superior work, however, as Malfi’s prose has a lyrical empathy that King (at that point, at least) lacked. It’s an extraordinarily well-drawn and readable world, one I was engrossed with nearly from the first page.
However, there was an unfortunate incident near the end of the novel that turned me off somewhat, and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. The passage in question contains a certain culturally insensitive term that really hit a wrong note with me. I don’t really want to focus on this too much, as the book is otherwise superlative, but nevertheless, the word is there.
In closing, I’d highly recommend this work. If you’re at all interested in vampires, or even stories about dying small towns, then definitely pick this one up....more
The Hive is a drab attempt at an update of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." While occasionally successful in his use of atmosphere, Curran iThe Hive is a drab attempt at an update of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." While occasionally successful in his use of atmosphere, Curran is unable to rise above his source material and we are left with an unnecessary retread. The concept and general plot of the book is actually quite interesting, but unfortunately, the execution is botched to such an extent that the novel becomes a chore to finish.
In the opening pages of the book, we are introduced to a variety of characters wintering over at Kharkov Station in Antartica; including researcher Gates, mechanic Hayes, camp doctor Sharkey and administrator LaHune. The novel has an unexpectedly large cast for its claustrophobic setting, but most of the minor characters are bland roughneck or scientist stereotypes, distinguishable only by the manner of their inevitable deaths. The major characters are reasonably well-drawn, but again fall disappointingly into archetypes: headstrong hero (Hayes), obstructive bureucrat (LaHune), and most problematically, female love interest (Sharkey.)
Driven scientist Gates and his team have discovered a trio of remarkably abnormal corpses frozen in the ice, and insist upon hauling the loathsome things back into camp, which ends up about as well as one would expect. The bizarre mummies are in fact Old Ones, adn while their physical forms are deceased, their malevolent spirits are anything but. We are then witness to a plague of madness and inexplicable phenomena which befalls the camp. As I mentioned earlier, the plotting is this novel's strong suit, but even that falls prey to this work's greatest flaw: its annoyingly insistent repetition. The desolation and cold of the Antarctic are described again and again in the text, often using the exact same phrasing multiple times! Characters expound to one another on the nature and abilities of the Old Ones, frequently falling into trances and reciting as though from a textbook, which is coincidentally the effect on the reader as well. I simply cannot stress enough how damaging this mind-numbing repetition is to the flow of the narrative. It is very nearly ruinous.
There are, however, numerous sections of the novel that transcend their dull surroundings to become effective pieces of horror fiction. These passages - including Dr. Gates's ill-fated expedition to the wild Medusa range, the exploration of ice-bound Lake Vordog, and two "interludes" to earlier Antarctic missions - are relatively free of the info-dumping and regurgitation which characterize the rest of the novel, which is only to their benefit. I believe these sections could have been extracted from the novel and, with a modicum of recontextualization, been presented as independent short pieces, and been much stronger efforts.
Thankfully, Curran does not attempt to ape Lovecraft's style too closely (I only spotted one usage of "eldritch"!), which lifts this novel above the level of pastiche. Although Curran has a casically transparent style and avoids pyrotechnic displays of language, he manages to convey the claustrophobia and dread of an Antarctic winter quite effectively near the beginning of the work, which makes his later stylistic choices all the more baffling and disappointing.
Overall, The Hive was an unpleasant read, and one I'd be very hesitant to recommend to any but the most devout Lovecraft followers. Even they would probably have a better time re-reading "At the Mountains of Madness."...more
An interesting work, though a problematic one for me. Jasper Kent weaves a tale of the Russian military, embroiled in battle against Napoleon's GrandeAn interesting work, though a problematic one for me. Jasper Kent weaves a tale of the Russian military, embroiled in battle against Napoleon's Grande Armée, the arrogant narcissist at the center of the conflict, and the Oprichniki, a gang of mysterious mercenaries. There's a lot to like about this book, but there's also a lot that doesn't work very well. Let's start with the negatives, because I'd like to end the review with some well-deserved praise.
The above mentioned arrogant narcissist is Aleksei Sergeivich Danilov, an officer in the Russian army who is attached to an elite espionage and sabotage unit, consisting of himself and three other officers. A spy, in other words. Aleksei narrates the story, and his viewpoint and opinions inform our own view of the work's universe. He is also the biggest stumbling block to my recommending this work wholeheartedly, being almost aggressively unlikable. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, an enormous tool. He's not exactly a bad man, but he most certainly is not a good one; and his constant philosophizing and relentless self-obsession become, by the end of the book's 450-odd pages, very wearying.
This leads us to the book's second critical problem: the length. I am not at all opposed to very long novels, when the work has enough substance and energy to sustain itself over the length. Twelve does not. I firmly believe that Kent could have eliminated a great deal of Aleksei's endless internal monologue without damaging the integrity of the book at all. With, perhaps, fifty pages of introspection trimmed, the book would have been a much leaner, tighter and more well-defined work.
That being said, there's a lot I liked about this novel as well. Kent captures the atmosphere, language and attitudes of early 19th century Russia wonderfully. The descriptions of landscapes, cityscapes, peasantry and soldiers are all marvelous.
My favorite thing about the book was the strange mercenary company, the Oprichniki. We the readers immediately recognize their true nature, although the book's protagonists do not: they are vampires. However, these are a far cry from Anne Rice's glamorous tortured souls; and have even less in common with the whitewashed do-gooders of so much of today's vampire fiction. The Oprichniki are brutal, savage and bestial. They possess none of humanity's finer qualities, having no sense whatsoever of empathy, camaraderie or love. They are in fact almost devoid of personality (save for Iuda, their charismatic leader), having few definable traits aside from hunger, sadism and a dim, black sense of humor. The latter is perhaps best demonstrated in our initial meeting with the Oprichniki, in which they mockingly name themselves after the twelve disciples of Christ, with their "father" taking the name of Zmyeevich, the "son of the serpent." The book explores the nature of these monsters quite deeply, and this is the most satisfying aspect.
In closing, Twelve is a novel well worth reading, with a few caveats. I'd recommend it to dark fantasy and horror fans, or even to adventurous readers of military historical fiction, but probably not to lovers of the modern, de-fanged vampire. ...more