Book Review: Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters

“Thoroughly original, thought-provoking, and lingering in the mind long after the last page is turned.”

Paper-Tigers-Hi-ResHorribly burned and disfigured, Alison is barely involved in life itself. By day, she hides behind closed doors in shame, unable to handle the stares, or the words people mutter under their breath… go away, Monstergirl. When she ventures out at night, wrapped in her scarf, she feels only a little safer. She knows she must get out more often, but when you’re just as crippled emotionally as you are physically, that’s easier said than done. One night while passing a thrift shop, she spies an old photo album. While most of the pages are stuck together by time and the elements, the undamaged pictures allow Alison to live in a way she didn’t think possible. The photos have captured an essence of life, a world held in time, and each times she escapes to that world, she finds herself a little more whole. But sometimes, no matter how badly you want something, it’s not what you need. As Alison discovers things can be too good to be true. She must find the strength to fight for her very life and destroy a toxic supernatural evil forever.

Paper Tigers is the debut novel by Damien Angelica Walters, author of the fantastic short story collection, Sing Me Your Scars. Already an accomplished short story writer, appearing in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, Nightscript I, and Exigencies, among others, Dark House Press was lucky enough to release her first novel, and what a beautiful book it is. Damien conjures an inspiring, original, and ghostly tale in Paper Tigers, flexing her writing muscles to tackle a highly sensitive subject like body image while maintaining a sense of dread and suspense throughout. It is very difficult to imagine what it feels like physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a burn victim, so writing about someone who has burns over half her body is a daunting task, and not one that many would consider taking on. Walters’ prose makes it look easy, capturing every angle of a recovering burn victim’s life; the shame of disfigurement, the physical therapy, the psychological trauma of knowing you will never be whole again, and she gets all of this on the page realistically and subjectively.

It is this longing to be ‘whole’ again that forces Alison to venture out at night. She’s painfully aware that her survival depends so much on her facing her fears, yet her fears throttle the life right out of her. The photo album is, at first, a welcome distraction. She enjoys imagining the people in the photos, the life they must have, and by imagining, she lives vicariously through the lives of people she doesn’t know. This quickly becomes an obsession for her, and as she discovers who the people in the photos are, the album opens up to her in a way that initially frightens her, but eventually becomes a way that she could become ‘whole’ again. It is here that Walters really shines, building the suspense with each page as we can’t wait to find out if this is real or imagined, and if it is indeed real, how far down the rabbit hole will Alison go to make her dream come true. The fantastical elements of the story are handled in a very straight-forward, matter-of-fact way that lend to the realistic, and soon we learn that yes, you can go too far down, and the price for what you want is often more than you can afford to pay.

Paper Tigers is visceral and emotional, with a fully-realized main character readers will come to care about despite her traumatic and fragile state of mind. Typically, reading about survivors of such a terrible tragedy can be an exercise in torture, but Walters doesn’t allow her readers to feel sorry for Alison for very long, understanding that even the most sorrowful of us must make a choice to try and live our lives as best as we can. Alison changes throughout the story, going from weak and fearful, then finally strong and resourceful. The evil she faces inside the photo album is very real, and extremely personal, and once she realizes how powerful it is, makes a decision to end that evil once and for all, knowing the consequences each step of the way. The story conclusion is at once logical and unpredictable, and does Alison’s character justice.

Thoroughly original, thought-provoking, and lingering in the mind long after the last page is turned, Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a stunning debut from a strong literary voice in Weird Fiction that manages to transcend genre by writing a story from the heart. We’ve never quite read anything like this before, so we definitely cannot wait to see what she’s going to come up with next. Readers looking for a creepy story that packs a strong emotional wallop from the first words should get this book in their hands as soon as possible.


Publisher: Dark House Press
Paperback (300pp)
Release Date: 29 February 2016

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