Author: Jonathan Kemmerer-Sovner

Epeolatry Book Review: Coyote Rage by Owl Goingback


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Title: Coyote Rage
Author: Owl Goingback
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Independent Legions Publishing
Release Date: 9th Feb, 2019

Synopsis:2019 BRAM STOKER AWARDS WINNER Bram Stoker Award-Winning author Owl Goingback makes a triumphant return to horror and fantasy in this gripping new novel. Coyote is on a murderous hunt, leaving behind a trail of carnage. The shape-shifter is determined to kill the human representatives to the Great Council in Galun’lati, eliminating the rule of mankind in the New World. But Raven has overheard the Trickster’s evil plan, and will do anything to protect Luther Watie and his daughter, Sarah Reynolds, even if it means turning his skin inside out. The forces of evil are aligning in two very different worlds. Can mankind be saved, or will creatures of fur and fangs once again reign supreme?

Synopsis: In this Bram Stoker award-winning novel, the spirit realm of Galun’lati is preparing for its next meeting of the Great Council with emissaries from each of the Animal tribes. A plot to eliminate the human emissary is underway. Bloodthirsty Coyote wants nothing more then to rid the Earth of humanity so that the animal can once again rise up and lay claim over the New World.

I was excited to read Coyote Rage as soon as it was announced that it had won the 2019 Bram Stoker award for Best Novel. Author Owl Goingback also won the Bram Stoker award for best First Novel for his 1996 novel, Crota. All of his novels and short stories within the genre have incorporated his Native American heritage, which certainly piqued my interest. With this most recent book, the first of a promised trilogy, Goinback focused on shapeshifters, and the relationship between their spirit domain and our own reality.

The story begins at the seat of high fantasy, and we are immediately introduced to the land of Galun’lati, the spirit world of the Cherokee. Galun’lati is home to all manner of fantastical creatures, as we will eventually discover, but also serves at the meeting place for the avatars of each of the major animal tribes, the Coyote being chief among them.

Coyote is both a trickster and a bloodthirsty psychopath, convincing the other animals that the only sensible move is to betray and murder the human avatar, Luther Waite, an aging Cherokee and member of the Great Council, so that the New World will again be theirs. It is only the Raven that stands up to Coyote, and makes it his mission to protect Luther and by extension, the human race.

Once in the New World, both the Coyote and Raven shapeshift into humans so that they can move among them undetected. I particularly enjoyed these descriptions of the animals transforming into humans. Shapeshifting is no easy business, but is instead written as an incredibly painful process that Goingback describes quite viscerally, such as when Raven first transforms:

“…he used his sharp beak to tug at the feathers covering his chest. He pulled several loose, and then plunged his beak deep into the bare spot he had created, causing his flesh to magically separate and his cloak of black feathers to fall away… he turned his skin inside out and slipped it back on… his bones popped and lengthened as they realigned themselves, the skin stretching tight and sealing itself over the new body.”

These moments brought to mind the painful werewolf transformation sequence from An American Werewolf in London. However, the strongest cultural reference point I found with the book was the Terminator films, believe it or not. Goingback brings together two beings from another place taking on human guise; one is sent to kill, one is sent to protect. When the Raven first shapeshifts in our reality, he appears as a muscular, naked man, and coincidentally find himself near a biker bar. His first priority is to steal clothes and a motorcycle. Pretty on the nose, but rather than seeming contrived, I enjoyed the mixture of science fiction pop culture with Native American mythology. It felt par for the course, with what Goingback was trying to accomplish tonally.

Despite its good writing and pacing, I found minimal horror aspects. Beyond one jarringly gory sequence in an elder-care home where Coyote viciously slaughters both the residents and the staff, this read more like a supernatural adventure story.

In retrospect, it might have been a mistake to begin the novel in Galun’lati, outlining the goals and objectives of our supernatural shapeshifters at the onset. I would have preferred more mystery. It’s hard for me to consider a story scary if there are no unknowns. It might have made for a more visceral experience had we begun from the POV of the human characters who have no idea why bloodthirsty coyotes are suddenly attacking them, and then figure that out along with them, with the revelation of the spirit realm serving as a climax, and not as a prologue.

Still, I’m interested to see how Goingback will continue the story and deepen the worldbuilding mythology with the next books in the series. Anyone who appreciates a unique voice in the world of horror should definitely check it out!


Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


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Title: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones (original publisher)
Release Date: 1st January, 1818

Synopsis: Young scientist plays God and suffers the consequences in Shelley’s essential horror classic.

The strength of the horror genre is its timelessness. Often, we don’t merely experience a singular imagination, but rather a reimagining of some eternal dread that has existed in one form or another. Standing on the shoulders of monsters, and all that. Wolfmen, vampires, zombie hordes or rotting flesh yearning to be free; these don’t belong to any individual artist, but seems more the task of that artist to pluck the story from the low-hanging fruit of the horror continuum, where it bides its time, waiting to be used as story fodder.

That wasn’t the case with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. She wasn’t reimagining anything, she was creating from whole cloth… albeit with a pinch of religious mythology for flavoring. Nonetheless, this was the absolute source material, patient zero, for the entirety of the Frankenstein copyright-free public domain mythos. Before this book: no Frankenstein anywhere in the human imagination. After this book: Frankenstein had always existed.

The Signet Classics edition I read began with not one, but two forwards written by Mary Shelley, detailing the creation process. It came across as rather apocryphal, being the proverbial dark and stormy night when the four writers – Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori, and Mary Shelley herself – decided to have a contest.

“We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron, and his proposition was acceded to.

In the forward, she mentions “the experiments of Dr. Darwin” as her inspiration. I at first assumed she meant Charles Darwin, who would have been seven years old when Frankenstein was published. In fact, she was referring to his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who, as she recounts, had done experiments on vermicelli, in bringing non-living matter to life. At least, that had been her recollection. Turns out that she’d gotten it wrong. Vermicelli is pasta. Erasmus Darwin had been experimenting on vorticella, a microscopic organism found in rain water. She’d misheard it, and then immortalized the blunder in her 1831 forward.

But that wasn’t the only time the blunder was immortalized. In the Mel Brooks film, Young Frankenstein, we have this scene:

Student: Isn’t it true that Darwin preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case until, by some extraordinary means, it actually began to move with voluntary motion?

Dr. Frankenstein: Are you speaking of the worm or the spaghetti?

That is what is known as a deep cut, as esoteric joke as I’ve ever seen, and in a Mel Brooks film!

Overall, I was surprised by how different the novel is from any of its adaptations. For example, young Victor Frankenstein’s early interest in science is capped off by him witnessing a tree struck by lightning:

…and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. It was not splintered by the shock but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.

Aha! What a fine job at foreshadowing the power of lightning which eventually brought her monster to life, and how smart I am for picking up on that!

Except, that never happens. The process by which the monster is created is rather vague, involving lots of trips to the slaughterhouse. But lightning never again returns as a plot point.

Unless, I thought later, Shelley was foreshadowing… from the grave! Not merely foreshadowing a later scene in her own book – anyone can do that – but rather foreshadowing the Frankenstein mythology itself which would evolve over the course of the succeeding century, in which lightning does play a vital role!

Or it was just a non-sequitur.

It was interesting to me how decidedly unsuperstitious Victor Frankenstein is. He’s purely a man of science, giving no thought to any religious ramifications of his actions.

I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect on my fancy and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm.

By stating this, she sets up Victor’s humanism, and makes it clear that this is not, in fact, a ghost story at all, but rather a science fiction story… No mean feat as that’s a genre which heretofore did not exist.

The key surprise for me, however, was how incredibly eloquent Shelley’s monster was. I could scarcely imagine the square-browed, grunting behemoth ingrained in my cinematic unconscious completing a full sentence, much less giving an introspective monologue for four chapters, more than 40 consecutive pages, with such epiphanies as:

To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honor than can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation…

Later, as his station in life becomes apparent, the monster laments:

Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.

Any amusement derived from the discordance in the monster’s verboseness, however, fell away as the stage set for the final showdown between creator and creation. “We shall soon enter upon a journey,” the monster writes to the besieged Frankenstein, “where your sufferings will satisfy my everlasting hatred.”

It is a brutal ending, pushing the young scientist to the edge of sanity, and Shelley’s tone is successfully chilly. I felt for both, and was repulsed by both. As I moved into the climax, I realized that though the story is so iconic, I actually had no idea how the novel itself would end… and I leave that to you to discover for yourself as well.


Signet edition mentioned in the review is available from Amazon. and occasional on Banana Books.

The book can also be read free at Project Gutenberg