Blood Red by Jason Bovberg

Blood Red by Jason BovbergRachel wakes up from a heavy night out to find the world has changed, her step-mother is dead in her bed with a glowing red mark on her, and the town is in chaos. The book starts as most apocalyptic novels do, but then offers something different almost immediately. I enjoyed the beginning in which we’re discovering the world with her and dealing with the unknown. The streets are full of smoke and destruction and all the bodies she discovers have a glowing red mark on them.

Our antagonist, Rachel, is desperately searching for her missing father, hoping he has not met the same fate as the rest of the town. Rachel’s friend, Jenny, joins her on her journey. Unfortunately, the Jenny character is pretty annoying, falling apart at the slightest thing, and there’s just so much screaming. Rachel is resilient and has a mature head on her shoulders for being 19. She’s thrown in to something of a leadership role amongst the survivors who gravitate toward the hospital. It’s a little hard to believe that a 19 year old would be a leader in any group, let alone a group of apocalypse survivors. The other major characters make for a diverse band of survivors, from the rugged cop Joel to the untrustworthy Scott. You feel the panic and confusion as they all try to understand the mystery of what has happened.

The interesting beginning drags on a little too long as we wait for the story to develop further. There is a significant amount of tension that builds up as bodies start to twitch, but at that point, it’s not clear what will happen next. We’re kept in suspense along with the characters. It’s not really until the second half of the book that we face a present danger. When the pace picks up, it’s really rewarding, and worth the slow burn build up.

This is not an apocalyptic zombie book (hooray!), which is really refreshing. There is not too much gore for the first two thirds of the book. It’s mostly horrific burns caused by getting too close to the glowing red mark of deceased love ones. This all changes when the dead come back fully, and the gore is turned up to 11. There are some vile and disgusting monsters and viscera that will please even the most die-hard gorehound. The way the bodies of the dead move is extremely creepy, even in the early stages. It makes me think of a cross between a certain scene from The Exorcist and creatures from the game Dead Space. And that is a wonderful thing.

As I said, there is a lot of focus on the tension rather than action initially. But you must stick with it and you’ll be more than satisfied. What makes a book like this is the monsters, and Bovberg has nailed it. He’s given us something new and disturbing, and the images will stick in your head after you’ve finished reading. These are genuinely scary and repulsive – so different from the tired zombie tropes – and they are to be applauded. This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Draw Blood, is also available now. You’re very much starting the story with this book. There are many questions left unanswered. I expect great things from the second book as we’re fully into the action by the end of this book.

7.5/10

Pick up a copy of Blood Red here: http://amzn.to/1G4Bfc6

Book Cover Blurb:

Rachel is 19. She doesn’t know how to handle her new stepmother, let alone the end of the world. But after finding her stepmother dead, Rachel is suddenly racing against time—and terrifying, unnatural forces—to survive a gruesome apocalyptic event. Outside her door, the college town of Fort Collins, Colorado, is filled with corpses, and something unfathomable is happening to those bodies. And it’s only just begun. As Rachel struggles to comprehend her horrible new reality, she’ll need to find answers to questions she never thought she’d ask—all while desperately searching for her lost father, on whom she pins all her hopes for coming out of this phenomenon alive and intact. But nothing will be as it seems.

Tom Piccirilli says “Blood Red gets seriously under your skin. It’s a whole new kind of horror novel.” Grant Jerkins says it’s “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It starts as a slow-burn freak-out and culminates in a series of horror-show set pieces that will forever be etched in my mind.” Alden Bell calls Blood Red “an epic addition to the genre. Ranging from the gritty to the surreal, the story delivers a nonstop, real-time experience of the End Times—replete with visceral terror, buckets of gore, and, ultimately, a redemptive humanity.” Robert Devereaux says the book is “guaranteed to creep you out!”

The beginning of an epic trilogy telling the real-time tale of an apocalyptic event, Blood Red is a nonstop thrill ride from the author of The Naked Dame and the publisher of Skull Full of Spurs and Santa Steps Out.

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

Lifeline by Kit PowerThe Scarlet Gospels has been a long time in coming following Clive Barker’s unfortunate health issues. The impending arrival of the book has been discussed for many years. I have to admit that I’ve probably never looked forward to reading a book so much in my life. Now, the wait is finally over. Of course, with that tremendous weight of expectations there’s the danger that the book won’t live up to the way it’s been built up in my head, which wouldn’t necessarily be the author’s fault. So how does The Scarlet Gospels fare?

The Scarlet Gospels brings together two of Barker’s most iconic characters: Pinhead, a priest of the Cenobites from The Hellbound Heart (and all the Hellraiser movies and comics), and Harry D’Amour, the hard living detective from The Last Illusion and Everville (as well as The Lord of Illusions movie and minor appearances in other books and comics). These are two of the most charismatic and engaging characters in horror, so putting them together is a potent recipe. Pinhead (as he is irreverently known) is a demon from hell, reaping and torturing flesh from the land of the living, offering all the suffering anyone could seek, intentionally or not. Harry is a private investigator with a gift, drawn to the world of magic, seeing and feeling what most never could.

The book has an extremely powerful opening. Barker brings us effortlessly back into the world he created as if you just read The Hellbound Heart yesterday. That’s not to say that Pinhead and Harry haven’t changed though. They have both aged and grown weary with their lives, but not with their abilities. As they have grown older they have each amassed a wealth of power due to their lifetimes of unimaginable experiences. It’s not too long before the two cross paths. Leading up to the book, I’d been curious as to the circumstances that would cause Harry to open the Lament Configuration (puzzle box) to meet Pinhead, since he knows that it is a gateway to hell and the consequences of opening that gateway. Suffice it to say that it’s well explained and beautifully written. I’m not going into much of the plot, as you really don’t want spoilers. This is a book you should read.

The action is set in a variety of locations, from the seedier side of Manhattan, to my (semi-native) New Orleans, to Hell itself. We learn more about the set up of society in Hell and the place that the Cenobites find themselves within that societal structure. It’s truly fascinating to see the mythos of The Order of the Gash expanded upon after so much time. It’s also captivating to explore the life, characters, and architecture of Hell. This truly is Clive Barker at his best as this fantastical world is woven for the reader. There is tremendous gore, and it’s vividly put on the page in great detail. The author certainly hasn’t gone soft on us.

We learn so much more about Pinhead throughout the book. He’s a demon with a mission. There is one fascinating scene in which Pinhead delivers a line which is sure to become one of his iconic, oft-repeated lines, in the same vein as “No tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering” and “We’ll tear your soul apart.” You won’t be able to help but smile when you find it.

Another constant in Barker’s writing is the excellent characterization of the people (and demons) we meet and their motivationsThe people who join up with Harry on his quest are intriguing and offer colorful personalities and add interest to the group. In a fascinating turn of events, we are introduced to a new Cenobite, and some of the events of the book are told from his point of view. His flesh is expertly used as a canvas for creation by Pinhead. He is a far more developed character than any of the other Cenobites we’ve seen on film. He’s not merely a mindless torturer, but still holds traits and thoughts from his pre-Cenobite mind.

The themes that have run through the Hellraiser mythos and that of Harry D’Amour are still present. This is a Clive Barker book after all. There are erotic, fetishistic, and sadomasochistic characters and scenes. The seedy sexual underbelly of society is a constant in Barker’s world, providing a setting to display the ways that extreme sexual vices lead to ruin. Barker shines a light on the darkness of humanity. It’s not always straightforward good versus evil though. Hell is not so black and white.

The temptation was there for me to race through the book, gobbling up the story, but I made myself break it up into chunks to savor the experience and to think about and replay what had happened in my head. There is no idle filler in this book, which is not a bad thing, but with such a beautifully crafted world, I wanted to stay in it longer. Overall, this is the book you’ve been waiting for. If you weren’t already a Barker fan, you will be after this.

10/10

Pick up a copy here: http://amzn.to/1H1Vj08

Book Cover Blurb:

The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker’s most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D’Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it’s everything they’ve begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker’s horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories. The Gospels are coming. Are you ready?