Epeolatry Book Review: The Branding Ax by Justin Fulkerson
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Title: The Branding Ax
Author: Justin Fulkerson
Publisher: Independently Published
Release date: 12th August, 2022
Synopsis: For Dominic, the annual fishing trips with his grandfather Earl were usually uneventful. Now at eighteen, he knows this will be the last trip they take together because Earl has recently been diagnosed with dementia and his lucid time is running out.
Clearcutting has resumed in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and, unbeknownst to Dominic, Earl has decided to sabotage the logging equipment nearby. When Earl returns to camp in a panic, raving about being attacked by something evil in the woods, Dominic fears his dementia has caused Earl’s delusion and as he tries in vain to calm him down, an explosion erupts in the distance clarifying to him what Earl has done.
Back in their tent, Earl succumbs to a heart attack. Dominic, afraid and alone, covers him and tries to figure out how he is going to get home. But Earl’s body does not remain dead very long. In the darkness of the tent, Dominic hears his corpse moving and realizes the nightmare has only just begun.
Pursued through the forest by his undead grandpa, Dominic struggles for survival as the wildfire rages. He will soon find out that an ancient evil has been stirred up by the activity and it is determined to protect its forest sanctuary at all costs.
When you think of camping and horror, you get some of the most classic tropes in the genre. Your fellow humans turning out to be less than trustworthy? Done! Supernatural terror to seek revenge on those who disturb mother nature? Yup! How about the sheer terror of nature itself and the dangers unprepared for? Check. How about you take all of those and put them into one book? You will have The Branding Ax by Justin Fulkerson.
Set deep in the woods of the Tongass National Forest, Fulkerson paints the scene of the sprawling, untamed Alaskan wilderness. The reader is introduced to Earl and his grandson Dominic. Recently, logging companies have been allowed to collect timber from the National Forest, a sore topic for Earl. Unbeknownst to Dominic, Earl has more than camping and fishing on the agenda for this trip.
Earl’s destruction of a nearby logging site gains the attention of John and Travis, two loggers keeping watch of the equipment overnight. The story is a trifecta of horror that the survivors face within the perils of nature, the thrill of being hunted by an ancient terror, all while fleshing out the motives of their fellow humans.
One of this book’s best elements is the slow reveal of the relationship between each of the characters. The main story is interwoven with memory chapters that slowly peel back the onion to reveal the truth of these relationships. The reader will meet love interests and old friends who help shape the current events of the main story.
My only downside to this book is the author’s technique of writing the memory chapters in italics. A large part of The Branding Ax is spent in the past which causes a further problem when memory chapters come one right after the other. Since there is no distinction in time, place, or character, the reader often needs to take a moment to weed out the context clues.
The Branding Ax is an amazing book that combines natural and supernatural elements with dynamic character interactions. Fulkerson does an amazing job structuring characters and history in a way that feels natural. And that’s why I recommend this book.
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Joseph Pietris is a member of the United States Coast Guard by day and heavily involved in the horror community by night. His work has appeared in several anthologies. When not writing, he’s produced reviews and interviews preferring those works generally lost in the cracks. As an associate editor, Joseph has weeding through the submission piles of horror podcasts.
Joseph’s work can be found at Amazon.com: Joseph P. Pietris: books, biography, latest update