“Perhaps this is one of the main purposes of horror fiction; namely, to show us that the things we cling to as steady, stable, and constant, are anything but. That we have very little control over our lives and are mere moments away from chaotic oblivion. It’s a theme Rich returns to again and again, with verve and insight.”
One of the great advantages of being an avid aficionado of horror fiction in today’s publishing climate, is that readers have the opportunity to experience and discover bright talents that might otherwise remain in relative obscurity. And even though it appears that horror fiction is in something of an ascendancy–writers such as Paul Tremblay, Sarah Pinborough, John Langan, Stephen Graham Jones, amongst others, receiving widespread acclaim and notice – there are many, many great writers who still remain to be sampled.
One such rising star is UK author, Rich Hawkins, whose name should be a familiar one to regular visitors of This is Horror. Having released three sequential novels in his ‘Plague’ trilogy (the first of which, The Last Plague, was nominated for a BFS award in 2015) through Crowded Quarantine Publications, he has subsequently devoted much of his time to penning various short stories and novellas, some of which he has recently self-published on Amazon, to great reviews. His latest work sees him return to the small press fold, this time with some other rising stars of the UK horror scene, The Sinister Horror Company (run by writers Justin Park, Duncan Bradshaw, and Daniel Marc Chant).
With King Carrion, Rich tackles that perennial staple of horror, the vampire; yet he manages, as he always does, to put a fresh, original spin on it. Opening with a brief prologue set in the distant past, he immediately establishes his vampiric creatures as something entirely different from either Stoker’s classic representation, or from more modern interpretations. Rich’s monsters are not the distant, near-mythical figures of most fiction. Instead, they are all too real, worshipped by the primitive Britons as gods and protectors; and the prologue details one such instance of human sacrifice, setting the bleak tone that Rich Hawkins creates so well in his work. Rich’s vampires – or vampire, as we are dealing with royalty amongst monsters, the King Carrion of the title – move like demonic animals, reeking of death and rot. No suave, dinner-suit-wearing figures of tragedy, or sparkly, two-hundred-year-old teenagers here.
Pretty soon, the action jumps to the present day, and we are introduced to main character, mason, a man who has become bereft in life for number of reasons. He has hitchhiked many miles to see his estranged wife–who definitely doesn’t want to see him–and he constantly struggles with his alcoholism, source of his most recent, major mistake. Mason is an interesting character to ‘star’ in a story. He’s not an especially likeable character, or a very sympathetic one. In many ways, he’s a loathsome individual–at least potentially, depending on the reader’s values–yet Rich invests him with humanity and realism. And that’s surely what counts. After a less than successful encounter with his former wife, Mason wanders the streets and is on taken under the wing of a couple of homeless people. Shacking up in an empty house, Mason wonders how much worse his life can get. He doesn’t have to wait long.
For King Carrion has returned, and seems intent on turning the town into a charnel house of vampires and mutilated corpses. Under the cover of darkness and mist-shrouded streets, he begins to increase the number of vampires, to tear his victims to bloody pieces. It’s a great turn of events following the very human dram of Mason, and comes with surprising speed considering the deceptively stately pace of the writing. Rich wastes no time in subjecting his characters to the full horrors of his intent. From here on in, we have a desperate flight through vampire-infested streets, as the numbers of the undead steadily increase. In counter-point, the town slowly ceases to become the haven that it once was, transforming into a place of shadows and peril. Perhaps this is one of the main purposes of horror fiction; namely, to show us that the things we cling to as steady, stable, and constant, are anything but. That we have very little control over our lives and are mere moments away from chaotic oblivion. It’s a theme Rich returns to again and again, with verve and insight.
If there are any complaints, it’s that some of the characters feel a shade brief; that they seem to be mere cannon fodder for the violence and horror. But that is often the way with shorter works. It doesn’t follow that they are less well drawn than the main protagonists, simply that they have less time to settle into the hearts of the reader. The other complaint–tying in with this–is that the story feels that it should be longer. There’s a lot of scope to expand the mythology and the story, to really pile on the horror and explore the being that is King Carrion. A late introduction concerning the military and the government’s knowledge of such creatures really takes the novella off into an exciting new direction, and it whets the reader’s appetite for more.
But these are mere trivial desires and are not detriment to the enjoyment of the book. All in all, another excellent piece of work by the rising star of horror that is Rich Hawkins.
Publisher: The Sinister Horror Company
Release Date: 17 September 2016
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