Readux: Monster Mash Edition

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Title: Abomination

Author: Gary Whitta

Published: 2015

Date Started: July 7, 2015 Date Finished: July 10, 2015

Rating (out of 5): ★★1/2

Every book has a story: I pitched into the publication of Abomination on Inkshares way back in the early spring. Inkshares is a relatively new kid on the crowdfunding playground, catering specifically to authors, books, and readers. Abomination is the first novel by screenwriter Gary Whitta, most famous for penning The Book of Eli (great movie!). It picked up momentum pretty quickly after the project went live on Inkshares and ended up with over 1300 followers. Participating in the crowdfunding for a book was certainly a new experience for me, and I kind of enjoyed being updated on the steps of editing and publication. It all built up the anticipation of waiting for a copy of Abomination to land on my doorstep! Or rather, land in my email so I could download it to my e-reader and then land on my doorstep a week later!

Alfred was tired. It had been a long, hard war, and though he had won it, he had barely rested since. He knew that the peace would not last long. For an English king, he had learned, it never did. There was always another war.

I think I may be the only person who has read two medieval monster books within a year of each other. I read Something Red in the fall as my Halloween read, and Abomination I read in the full of summer, almost over one weekend while I was at my parents’ cabin. Both historical fiction set in the Dark Ages, heavily tinted with fantasy amidst the powers of war and the church.

Abomination starts off in the stark reality of the times: King Alfred of England has struggled with fighting off a Danish invasion for most of his reign. Peace is tentative, and Alfred is not alone in knowing that another war will never be far away. His advisors are on the constant search for the weapon, the strategy, the blessing that will bring England true victory over its foreign invaders. When strange scrolls with strange Latin written on them are uncovered at a building site in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelred, wastes no time in discovering their secrets. By the time he realizes what dark and terrible magick he has involved himself with, Aethelred is too enamoured of the power to stop. He promises Alfred that the magick is the key to victory over the Danes, but after several awry experiments with the magick’s limits, Alfred commands that the investigation of the scrolls stops. Aethelred takes power completely into his own hands and returns to Canterbury with his monstrous creations, and no one is prepared to fight his magick.

Threatened from the outside by Danes and now threatened from within by the Archbishop’s black magic, Alfred calls his most loyal knight and close friend, Sir Wulfric, out of retirement. Wulfric makes an unlikely pair with the monk Cuthbert, one of Aethelred’s former assistants, but they make a strong team against Aethelred. The Archbishop’s abominations are felled by Wulfric’s order of knights, but before the end, Aethelred will have his revenge and Wulfic will face a danger unlike any other.

“So you are the one who led the war against me,” said Aethelred from the altar. “Murdered my children, rent my family asunder. Sir Wulfric the Wild.”

If I may use the term ‘sausage fest,’ Abomination becomes less of a sausage-fest in its second half with the introduction of warrior and hunter, Indra. Her commitment to her hunt clashes with Wulfric’s uncomfortable relationship with violence, muddied even more by his past as a knight and hero. And while Indra is a welcome addition and a great character in her own right, it is the second half of the novel where the narrative starts to fall down for me.

The heavy introspection of this section of the novel isn’t suited to the very screenplay-esque telling of the more action-heavy sequences. The story’s telling is all action, all dialogue, with just enough description to give an idea–your inner art director has to dress the set yourself. When it comes to the terror part of the monster genre, there has to be an atmosphere, a mood that sustains the fear even when the monster is absent. Abomination never quite had that, certainly not to the degree that Something Red did. Something Red was all atmosphere, all mood–almost poetry–and I missed that here.

There was also a scene–or rather the lack of one–near the end Abomination that broke my immersion in the action. It was so jarring to me that the narrative walked right up to this moment and then skipped past it that I went back and re-read large portions of the novel to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Certainly there’s always room for mystery in stories, but not when it comes to key moments that both the hero and the audience have earned.

It’s impossible for me to know if some of my grievances with Abomination would still exist without the measuring stick of Something Red looming tall beside it. Abomination wasn’t poorly written, but it never reached poetry. It had suspense and horror in its action, but neither felt sustained over the quieter moments. The missteps were loud over the quiet, competent narrative. Perhaps it was my own expectations, stoked by a few great moments early in the story, that set me up for disappointment. Given my history with Abomination, I’m sure you can understand that I really wanted to like this book. Maybe I can recommend that you read Abomination before reading Something Red?

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