Epeolatry Book Review: Hollow Heart


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Title: Hollow Heart
Author: Ben Eads
Genre: Dark Fantasy Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 29th November, 2019

Synopsis:  Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

Hollow Heart (158 pages, a Novella pub. Nov. 29, 2019) by Ben Eads is on the surface about a paraplegic ex-Marine and former alcoholic, Harold. Harold is fighting against an evil calling itself, The Architect. The only way Harold can defeat The Architect is to destroy the heart of the god that the Architect has created. If the Architect succeeds with his god, the whole world will be changed into hallucinatory horror: 

“It looked like a hundred atomic bombs had gone off and paused, containing imperfect, translucent spheres. As its impossible shape moved, singeing the ocean and world around it, the globes containing myraid versions of annihilation formed crude legs and arms. Its sound passed through Harold, shaking his ribs, rattling his teeth. Sea and earth were gobbled up as it lumbered into the ocean, as graceful as a car accident. Patches of sand that turned to glass reflected pieces of the abomination.”

On a deeper level the novella is about fathers failing their sons, and trying like hell to change. Main characters Harold and his son Dale interact with a supporting cast: love interest Mary, a strongly descriptive Terrell, dead Dalton, and throwaway Sheriff. For the first half of the novella, the story takes place in a Floridian trailer park where the characters seem to move in and out of the scene as if in a play. The action kicks in during the second half of the book.  

Hollow Heart has a dreamlike quality that works for it and against it. Confusion with character dialogue and some plot points mixes with an awesome villain and great monsters. While much of the action seems to take place off-page with Harold unconscious, there are some scenes of absolute truth, such as when Harold confronts his dead abusive father: 

“Harold cracked his neck as if preparing for a brawl and secretly hoping for one. ‘You left me when I was just a child. The only thing worse? After you bashed in mom’s face in, you…’ Harold looked at his shoes, massaged his temples. ‘You f*cked up mom’s face for good, you *ssh*le. You took the only thing in my life that made everything better: her smile. I saw the light go out of her eyes.’ Harold loaded a round in the chamber, pointed the barrel at his chest, ‘While she was down, you kicked her in the stomach. She had a f*cking seizure.’

Harold’s trigger finger quivered.

‘I made up for it boy,’ Oliver said, crossing his arms. ‘Got on the wagon, paid for all of it, and your Mother forgave me. You didn’t even show up to her funeral because I paid for it. You only remember the bad times. Can’t say I blame you. Now is not the time to—‘ ”

Now for the nitty gritty: 

The prologue could have been part of the novella itself. 

There is confusion over which characters are speaking. 

A lot of action in the novella takes place off-scene, resulting in telling without showing. That issue could have been fixed by changing the character’s point of view. 

Also, confusing plot points with The Architect’s motivation which could have been addressed more. Harold seems secondary as a character. Things happen to him; he doesn’t make the action happen. Dale lacks substance and believability. 

On to the part that will delight the author and readers: 

The villain is pure gleeful delight. The monsters are very good due to hallucinatory description. In a pivotal scene, The Architect wakes up the god he’s created with his own special violin:

“A spine from a child appeared in his left hand, a bow in his right. Tiny ribs jutted from the sides, curved upward to secure nerves that quivered in anticipation of his touch. The Architect brought the bow across the nerves and began to play. A chorus of screams filled the room as if its owners were being burnt alive.”

The novella possesses strong dialogue and good prose. My favorite characters are Terrell the meth-head and dead Dalton. Their presence carries the book and lends it a wonderful “B” movie quality. Imagery within scenes and interaction between fathers and sons are my favorite parts of the novella. Eads gets a lot right with this second novel, but in my opinion, he still has some areas of his craft to hone.

3/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

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