Review: The Congregation by Aric Mitchell (@aricmitchell)

(Format Note: I read The Congregation as an ePub review copy kindly provided by the author.)

Now, I’ll say up front that I’m not usually one for horror. I normally stick to my tried-and-true genres of science fiction and fantasy whenever possible. The last time I branched out into horror was when I read Brian Keene’s City of the Dead and found myself both revolted and fascinated by the bleakness and absolute worst of humanity. The conflicting feelings were so strong that I’ve sort of skirted the genre since, but since I love indie fiction so much, I jumped at the chance to review Mr. Mitchell’s debut horror novel and give the genre another try.

The Congregation is dark, intense, disgusting, hideous, and bleak. In other words, it’s exactly what it set out to be.This isn’t horror in the traditional sense, with creepy things waiting to jump out of the shadows and lots and lots of suspense. This is somewhere halfway between the kind of horror where everything is implied and nothing really happens and the splatterpunk horror made popular in many cult zombie films. The setting is the Arizona-Mexico border, the time could be anywhere from the 80s to now (given that there’s very little modern technology referenced… I don’t even remember if anyone had a cell phone) with an ensemble cast in which only a couple of people are genuinely likeable and you expect them to die at every turn.

Beyond the blood and gore, though, there actually is a pretty cool story at the center of this novel, which is what I was hoping to find. It’s not just pointless violence and nasty-gross bad guys and possession, but an interesting take on an old story that really ties the whole thing together. It’s a competent narrative, for which I was pleasantly surprised.

There were times when the prose could have used a bit more editing and/or proof-reading,  mostly for tightness – some of which may be personal preference – but I noticed very few scattered typos and minor errors. They did not overly distract from the reading.

Overall I felt that The Congregation was a strong debut novel, from an indie author who’s probably got a lot of good things coming his way. For near-perfect professionalism I would suggest one more editing/proofing pass to reword the occasional confusing sentence, but since we live in a world of ebooks, I’m not deducting much for formatting/editing unless it’s egregious. The fact was that when I started reading it, I felt like I was watching a train wreck – it was not so much that I had to turn away, but instead stared, riveted by the horror until I hit the final page, the twist… and was satisfied.

Final Score:

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Review – The Old One by Todd Brabander

(Note: I received a copy of The Old One via the LibraryThing Member Giveaways Promotion. It is available at Smashwords and Amazon).

There is no doubt in my mind that H.P. Lovecraft is a significant source of inspiration for Mr. Brabander. The Old One is a horror story in the slow, creeping method of insidiousness that Lovecraft became so well-known for. While the tone and actual writing are completely different (much more colloquial than Lovecraft’s stilted formality), I would most definitely consider this a “Lovecraftian” tale.

The story is paced slowly, though not so much as to cause boredom. There is enough happening that keeps the reader drawn in, but does not reveal too much too quickly. When the Elder God-style supernatural horror is finally revealed, it is done in such a way which is shockingly gruesome without being overly gratuitous. It is here that Mr. Brabander’s work most greatly differentiates from Lovecraft’s, in that most often, Lovecraft’s stories left the horror entirely to the imagination, whereas Brabander lets us see some of the goriness that happens when you disturb the rest of some kind of ancient being.

Overall, the narrative was fairly smooth, with bumps in the road when backgrounds for minor characters were inserted without any line breaks or other differentiating factors, and the occasional minor editing/formatting error.

If you’re a fan of the Lovecraftian vein of horror (which I totally am), I think you’ll find a fair amount to like here. I would offer one observation – for a book priced at $2.99, ~18000 words is very short. This is a novella, not a full length work, so don’t be surprised when it’s only about 59 pages (on my Sony PRS-505 in ePub format). I would not have priced it that high myself, but of course that’s the author’s call to make.

PROS: Good narrative, Lovecraftian flair.

CONS: Price point for length, occasional formatting error.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Recommended for story, but it’s short.