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.


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