Author: B.A. Kockaya

What‌ ‌Horror‌ ‌Writers‌ ‌Can‌ ‌Learn‌ ‌from‌ ‌Horror‌ ‌Films‌ ‌

What Horror Writers Can Learn from Horror Films

B.A. Kockaya

 

As the weather gets colder and Halloween gets closer, what better way to prepare for the season than catching up on new horror films and rewatching old favorites? Watching horror films is not only a relaxing way to spend a Friday evening in fall, but also a useful way for horror writers to hone their craft. Here are three things horror writers can learn from horror movies.

 

Let your protagonist run upstairs.

Then do something different. What if the pretty blonde cheerleader runs upstairs to escape the killer who interrupted her popcorn-making, only to turn around at the top and confront them? What if the wife whose husband snaps, in a season of isolation, snaps back? What if all the diverse characters didn’t die at the beginning, but brought their untold stories and unique points-of-view to the story to defeat evil and become the heroes?

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Epeolatry Book Review: Little Sister by Elana Gomel

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Title: Little Sister – A Novella about Friendship and Monsters Set in Soviet Era Russia
Author: Elana Gomel
Genre: Dystopian Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 15th Oct, 2021

Synopsis: Svetlana never imagines that stepping between a soldier and a monster will change her life – or the course of history as she knows it.

Andrei, Svetlana learns, is a soldier fighting the battle of Kursk in 1943 Soviet Union. Strange names, people, and places rouse the young girl’s suspicions. She has only ever known the monsters threatening Motherland, and the Voice, whose army of light is the only weapon against them. Svetlana doesn’t know if she can trust the strange soldier, for he could easily be one of the turned former humans masquerading as a soldier. At the same time, she finds him eerily familiar, as if she’s known him her whole life.

When Svetlana loses her mother and father, Andrei agrees to help her find them, setting the two on a quest that reveals a new threat, and a secret with world-shattering consequences.

Little Sister is a gorgeous, subversive fantasy set in the Soviet era. Grounded in Russian history and literature, the novella unravels the underside of history, imagining how words and writing can be both an act of violence and one of hope that shape the historical narrative. The novella invites the reader into the events of an era from a perspective that isn’t often explored in fantasy literature. I not only found the characters and plot refreshing, but also wanted to learn more about the events and fiction that inspired the story, leading me to further reading and research.

The novella captures the grief and terror of the time in gruesome, heartbreaking detail—not just of monsters and gore, but of human suffering. At the same time, the story and its characters don’t let go of hope and love, and there are profound, moving scenes of this, too, especially as Svetlana and Andrei’s friendship grows. Though war and death rage around them, the two learn to find comfort and trust in each other, and this felt so real as it unfolded. Finally, the foundation of the novella is a quest that packs the story full of harrowing adventure and keeps the plot moving along at a heart-thumping pace.

While the complexity of Svetlana and Andrei’s relationship was, for me, the centerpiece of the story, the ending has stayed with me long after I finished reading. Within the novella’s resolution, Gomel masterfully embodies one of its central themes: the ambiguity and power of words. The ending delivers a twist that packs real weight and ties the mysteries surrounding Andrei and Svetlana’s experiences together in a meaningful, truly unexpected way that is at once grim and disheartening, and hopeful and uplifting. After reading, I saw how the novella subtly hinted at this finale. I did feel there could have been a bit more subtext leading to the final reveal, perhaps involving the Voice, for example, which is why I have given the novella 4.5 out of 5 ravens.

Ultimately, this is a story not to be missed. If you love rich dystopian fantasy with unique, terrifying monsters, complicated human relationships, and a final message that’s as dire as it is hopeful, then add Little Sister to your reading list.

out of 5 ravens.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Rookery
Author: Deborah Hewitt
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: 1oth August, 2021

Synopsis:

Follow Alice Wyndham into the Rookery, a magical alternate-London created to safely harbor those with magical abilities – or so Alice believes. Alice is an aviarist, someone who can see people’s souls in the form of birds, called nightjars. She has also inherited the magical gifts of Mielikki, the goddess of nature. But Alice’s powers have a dark side; she hopes that, by learning to master her other gifts, she’ll be able to quell the deadly magic which threatens her very existence. 

It’s not until Alice becomes the victim of a series of unexpected, seemingly inexplicable attacks that she realizes she’s not the only one in trouble. The Summer Tree, the linchpin of this world, is growing, and the Rookery begins crumbling around her. All her hopes and plans are thrown into disarray, and Alice discovers that, instead of running from it, she must embrace her deadly soul to save the people and place she loves – before their entire world falls apart.  

 

The Rookery is a darkly magical contemporary fantasy set a year after the events of The Nightjar, the first book in this duology. Like several other reviewers have noted, I didn’t realize that The Rookery was the second in a series, but that didn’t stop me from absolutely loving this book. In fact, the beginning of the story reiterates the events that led Alice to this point. For those who have read The Nightjar, this might feel a bit redundant; but for someone who accidentally read The Rookery first, the summary helped me get into the story quickly. 

The characters, the worldbuilding, the magic system: each element works together so well and creates such a rich, compelling narrative that I truly couldn’t put the book down. Hewitt draws on Finnish myth to build an interesting, complex magic system unlike any I’ve encountered before. The Rookery brims with life, lore, and history of its own; each turn of the page brings something new to discover, a new character to meet. The book left me amazed at the depth of the author’s imagination. 

Alice is the kind of heroine I love to read about. She’s flawed but clever, loving but brutal when she needs to be, and she really develops on the page. I appreciate that the minor characters have lives and stories of their own, too; they’re not just devices to move forward Alice’s agenda. Many readers will love the slow burn between Alice and Crowley, but the most interesting and complex relationship in the book, for me, is between Alice and Tuoni. Hewitt masterfully navigates all sorts of relationships – romantic, familial, friendships – making the characters themselves feel so much more real.

While The Rookery is quite firmly fantasy with a bit of romance mixed in, there are some truly horrific scenes in the book, too, which will appeal to readers with a taste for the genre’s darker side. The result of Holly’s membership test, for example, was so surprising, and so gruesome, that it shocked me. I just didn’t expect that level of brutality from the book, or the suddenness of it, which made the world that much more realistic and gave the magic system a cold, unforgiving logic. 

Finally, Hewitt’s writing is top notch, crafting a compulsively readable story. She tightly maps an action-packed tale full of twists, turns, and artfully plotted subtext that provides a highly satisfying pay off at the end. Ultimately, she has created a story and a world that never fails to feel real – one might think it possible to peel back the layers of this world, and step through into the Rookery. 

Star Rating: 5/5

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

Epeolatry Book Review: Pretty/Ugly by Jennifer Anne Gordon

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Pretty/Ugly
Author: Jennifer Anne Gordon
Genre: Dystopian/Ghost
Publisher: Livre Maison
Release Date: July 13, 2021

Synopsis: Omelia wants to be anyone but herself: that’s why she’s Omelia. She spends her time chasing Instagram likes and YouTube subscribes, snapping selfies, and polishing her online persona. But not even her artfully crafted makeup can hide the painful red spots or spider-like black veins that begin to creep across, and take over, her skin. Abandoning the few relationships she still has, Omelia flees to Venice, Italy, where she sheds the identity she has created while confronting the trauma that turned her true self into a ghost.

It’s there, too, that she meets Sam, the Adderall-fueled heir to a life of wealth and politics that he doesn’t want to inherit. A political scandal reminds him just how incomplete he is; his seeming inability to contract the disease that’s brought on the apocalypse makes him feel as if he will never belong in this world, or this life. In Italy, Sam hopes to while away the end of the world alone, but his new relationship with Omelia/Nicole forces him to reconsider his past and his expectations for the future.

Pretty/Ugly is a gorgeous, dream-like Gothic tale of past and future ghosts. I originally picked up this novel because I love Gothic horror, and Jennifer Anne Gordon’s previous work plays with Gothic conventions in interesting ways. Pretty/Ugly does not disappoint; I found it to be a lovely, terrifying Gothic tale that feels timeless and chillingly relevant. Gordon weaves a compelling, bittersweet narrative of grief, loss, and trauma in a world full of restless spirits, crumbling houses, and decaying bodies. Her novel is Gothic horror at its best, and I love the fresh ways in which she incorporates classic themes and elements into the story. 

To Omelia and Sam, the past is more concrete than the present or future. They refuse to let go of their guilt over their childhood traumas, which work in tandem with the new virus that’s infecting people like wildfire to influence how and who each of them chooses to be. Guilt and trauma hinder their every move, to the point that they are unable to view anyone in their lives as anything but ghosts. Omelia’s relationship with Paul is marred by her guilt over her father and what she finds in Paul’s photo album; she can’t see him in any other terms but the past. Similarly, Sam’s relationships with his family and with Simon are infected by Sam’s obsession with the past, represented by the bell which only he can hear—until he meets Omelia/Nicole. 

From the ghosts haunting its pages, to Omelia’s reading material and makeup styles, the Gothic shapes the characters’ choices and creates the framework through which Gordon terrorizes them, forcing them into situations of existential dread. While the overarching plot is quite simple, the character development is rich and complex. The constant psychological agony each character faces, set against the backdrop of an unknown deadly disease, moves the plot forward quickly, leaving the reader breathless by the final page.

As with most Gothic horror, relationships, and a preoccupation with the domestic, are the essence of Pretty/Ugly, though I also feel that at its heart the novel is a powerful, yet unconventional, love story. The novel doesn’t focus on romantic love. Instead, Gordon emphasizes not our need to love and be loved—though there is an element of this in Sam’s relationship with Simon, and Omelia’s with Paul—but, more importantly, our need to not be lonely. This felt so relevant given all that the world has been through in the past year of lockdowns, restrictions, and forced time away from loved ones. 

Ultimately, for me, the centerpiece of the novel is Nicole and Sam’s relationship and how they navigate this in a world of shifting, literally masked identities. I love the contrast between these characters, too. On the one hand, Sam shuns the spotlight and wants to avoid attention whenever possible, yet stomps his way through the world; his character feels loud and substantial throughout the novel. Omelia, on the other hand, is obsessed with posting selfies, maintaining her online presence, and being seen, but for me, the word that feels most like Omelia is susurrus

The novel shifts quite literally between past and present, but in many places, especially in the last third of the book, the tense shift was jarring and confusing. At times, I found myself reading through entire paragraphs multiple times to understand what was happening. It left me wondering whether this was an intentional technical choice on the author’s part, or a proofreading error. This is my only complaint about the book, though.

I wouldn’t call the ending happy, but it is hopeful, as much great Gothic literature is, and there are so many other wonderfully Gothic surprises peppered into the narrative. If you are looking for a timely story full of creeping dread and Gothic sensibilities, I highly recommend adding Pretty/Ugly to your list.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Available from BookShop and Amazon.

The Land of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic

The Land of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic 

 

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”

Daphne du Maurier

 

Daphne du Maurier moved through the literary world of her lifetime like a ghost—read, but not really seen or heard. A woman, du Maurier struggled against the social confines prescribed to her gender, often using her writing as a release for her passionate longing for adventure, freedom, and solitude. She championed satisfying work as a source of joy for women; for her, that work was writing, which came before everything else—even her children. In this way, she was revolutionary, and her female characters reflect du Maurier’s own need to break the ties that bound her to a life of socially acceptable domesticity. 

Try as she might, du Maurier couldn’t break free of critics’ characterization of her work as simple romance and melodrama; she lamented being “dismissed with a sneer as a best-seller.” Even today, you won’t find her on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 greatest novels published since 1900, despite the fact that Rebecca alone sold nearly 3 million copies between 1938 and 1965, and many readers continue to relegate her to the dusty world of classic lit. 
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