Darkbound Review

on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Note: This is a review of an ARC provided by the author
Buy the novel here.

The Short
- Excellent starting setup
- Briskly paced and thrilling
- Some extremely intense suspense, particularly the first 1/2 of the novel
- I would argue this is one of Collings' best paced novels
- Ending twist is one you won't predict, but still is fantastic
- Short length makes for a quick, memorable read

- Way too much gore
- Seriously, it's almost gleeful it its grotesque violence, like the author was reveling in it
- Pacing and reveals near the end come a little too quickly and without enough foreshadowing
- Fantastic premise seems cheated out its full potential in leu of cheap thrills
- Epilogue is so predictable I knew what it was going to say before even reading it

The Long

There's no hiding that I'm a fan of Michaelbrent Collings' work. He's made a name for himself by consistently producing well edited, well paced thrillers that dip more than a toe into horror. Whenever I get one of his novels I know I need to stake out some time, because I'm not going to put it down until I finish it. So I was quite excited when this next novel, Darkbound, jumped onto the scene. Another horror novel in true Michalbrent Collings fashion? Yes, please.

So did Darkbound deliver? Well...sort of.

The premise is simple: six relative strangers get on a subway car together. Within moments, however, they realize something is wrong. The lights go out, only darkness can be seen out the windows, and they are seemingly trapped like fish in a barrel. Seeing as they range from kindly (an old latino grandmother) and downright hostile (a gang leader), tensions quickly escalate to levels near-murderous.

And that's before the supernatural killings begin.

The first part of Darkbound is excellent. It's incredibly suspenseful, with the personalities of these downright intimidating characters playing off each other in such a way you feel like you're sitting on a powder keg. These interactions remain the most entertaining parts of the novel, with the despicable and hostile characters constantly feeling like even a greater danger than the supernatural monstrosities hunting them.

It's unfortunate, then, that the novel seems to lose focus after the first killing.

I won't spoil anything here, but I will say this: Darkbound is gory. As in, stomach-churning, paragraph after paragraph of violent, horrific torture. Fingers being torn from sockets, dismemberment, pieces being painfully bent in unpleasant ways; you get the picture. And as someone who has been reading Michaelbrent's work for a while (as well as a child of the violent video game generation and a massive fan of horror films), this isn't unexpected. It's just...too much. Even for me.

Call me a wimp, but I like my gore to accent a story. Apparition, another of Michaelbrent's novels, has some downright nasty stuff in it, but it's tolerable because it's 1. Brief and 2. There as part of the story. The violence in Darkbound just feels mean-spirited. Did I really need three Kindle pages of this person being brutally tortured and executed? And while you could argue that (after reading the ending) this blood-filled horror was the point of the novel, it's still sickening. It's almost like it's reveling in itself as it goes on and on, so much so that I started just skimming the later deaths as I knew they wouldn't be adding much to the overarching story.

So how is the overarching story? Well, it's actually fairly clever. One part "Purgatory" and another "Saw," there's some genuinely disturbing and clever moments with what happens to these six unfortunate blighters (Olik's in particular was very suiting, if it perhaps could have been presented more tastefully). Call me demented, but I began to look forward to see what each person's demise would be. Unfortunately the cleverness in the kills was hampered by the copious flesh-rending.

The ending packs a twist I will openly admit I didn't see coming, and I actually thought was pretty cool. Though it could have done without the whole "recap," basically explaining the entire rest of the novel for those of us too dumb to pick up on subtlety. While I'll argue the final two scenes could have used a bit more foreshadowing, I still bought the massive twist. So if you're looking for a novel that'll catch you by surprise, this one's got you covered.

It's hard for me to come to a consensus on Darkbound. One part of me admits that I did read the whole novel in one sitting, unable to put it down until I found out how it ended. The other part remembers how my favorite (and most memorable) horror novels don't rely on being gory splatterfests to evoke "shock," instead building on the tension presented in the scenes. Darkbound has the latter in spades when the trapped victims "interact," but the second somebody died I sort of sighed and was left resigned. It wasn't scary, it was just cheap.

All that aside, Darkbound is deliciously paced, and still provides enough tension and shock (as well as that great twist) to be worth a read. I'm just hoping this "gore-horror" trend doesn't continue into future novels, as they tarnish otherwise excellent reads.

Three out of five stars.

Beginning Anew

on Saturday, January 26, 2013
With that downer of a note gracing my main page for the past bit of time, I figured I should put something less negative on here (as well as probably start blogging more reliably. Maybe? Maybe).

Here are a few things I've been doing:

- Working on a short sci-fi story called Aeon, which is currently in limbo because I am uncertain if I am currently skilled enough to finish it
- Re-reading Death's Aria in preparation for edits before submission
- Re-reading Half and Quarter, as I plan on e-publishing them a little while down the road (haven't decided when yet, but it is going to happen)
- Working on my newest novel, Morphean. By that I mean I just now made a .doc for it and will be starting it soon while editing Death's Aria

I realized that last year I abandoned a lot of projects. Naught But Glass (which was technically 2011 but I tried reviving it in 2012) made it three chapters before falling flat. A Straight Cut got all the way to the last 1/4 of the novel (the biggest reveal happened, everything went crazy, and I stopped. Not sure why) before it got put in the backburner. I believe that one was actually victim of "realizing that in order to make it work I would have to rewrite the first 1/4 of the novel" syndrome (aka "attack of the internal editor") and I lost drive to finish it. Lastly, Empty Pages, which I was very excited for also flubbed out after about five or six chapters. This one was mostly because I had an idea for an ending but one of the pieces I just couldn't latch together. Until I figured that out (which would make the twist make sense), I couldn't proceed as I had foreshadowing to do. So it kind of just died.

I also started Eighth (which I actually will finish, I assure you) but I decided it would be best to write something I could actually pitch, seeing as Eighth's grandaddy Half already got the reject stamp (it's what I get for trying to sell a vampire book in this day and age). So that one is down but not out.

I've found it very motivating to visit local bookstores, be they small one or chains. With this day of eBooks I usually can just buy anything I want to read off Amazon, but last night I had some free time and was in the area so I wandered around Barnes and Noble a bit. Walking through both the fantasy and especially YA sections I realized that I really wanted to have something on those shelves, and also I could totally write something that would work (or have already written something and haven't submitted it. Lookin' at you, Death's Aria). It was very motivating for writing and also uncorked that little well of writing ideas that's sort of been running dry these last few months.

I spent the rest of the evening plotting and devising the world for Morphean, a tentative title for a tentative series called "Dreamkiller Chronicles." Essentially our conscious thoughts and emotions create a sort of residual haze over everything (where do all those emotions/thought go after we dissipate them? To Morphean) kind of like a Wifi network I guess; a world we are always connected to but not aware of. When we dream we actually set foot in that world, but a few people can actually control how they react in their dreams and eventually break out, getting to the heart of Morphean. Of course, some people are scumbags and can bust into other people's dreams and corrupt them, essentially destroying their subconscious and killing the person. Can't let that happen.  

So it's Nightmare on Elm Street meets...I dunno, something else. Young adult. The funnest part is this story directly links to Death's Aria's world, but not so much that you'd have to have read the previous book to get it, just enough for some cameos. There's obviously more to the system than just that, but that's the basic gist. It's one part fantasy, one part the teen-empowerment stories that all YA novels are, and a big part mystery. Should be interesting. Maybe. Hopefully not a carbon-copy of Death's Aria.

Anyway I'm trying to start up writing again. I have been writing regularly for ARPGamer.com, as well as a bit on my video game blog, so those are available as well. That's it from me! I'll post less "here is Nathan's life" posts in the future.