Book Review: Brother by Ania Alhborn

“An instant classic.”

brother-ania-ahlborn-cover-530x823All Michael knows is killing and pain. It’s a way of life, and not a life he’s very happy about. Deep in the West Virginia woods, off the main roads and highways, the Morrow family tracks down young female hitchhikers, and make their nightmares come true. They never have to worry about anyone catching the scent of death at their house because their marks are the nameless, the forgotten of the highway. Sticking to a strict set of rules, Michael and his brother, Rebel, hunt the girls down for their mother, who in turn kills them. Rebel starts breaking the rules a little, and Michael sees his chance to possibly twist free and have a life of his own. Michael didn’t count on falling in love. He didn’t know how badly he’d want to get away. Rebel has plans for Michael as well, and will go to no lengths to make sure that Michael knows his place is always with the family.

Ania Alhborn, author of The Bird Eater, Seed, Within These Walls, and other great novels of horror, presents Brother. Plucked directly from the headlines, this story of brotherly love/hate will crush you to the core. This is a book filled with secrets, and when they are revealed, the knowledge they impart cause more anguish than any physical pain Michael may fear. It is his fear of the physical pain his family is known for that keeps him in their clutches, which only amplifies his desire to break free from them. The Morrows are the only family he’s ever known, yet there’s this deep-seated feeling, this unwavering conviction, that he is destined to be out on his own. Trapped and tortured by his brother Rebel, Michael knows what he has to do to escape, but he is powerless to take action, crippled by fear, knowing just what his family will do to him if he ever tries to get away.

Set in the early 1980s, Alhborn captures the essence of the decade by focusing on the music that defined a generation and how it affects her characters. Music plays such a part of Michael’s life, even though he’s certainly not the music nerd his sister, Misty Dawn, is, or even Alice, the young woman he falls for who works at the record store one town over. This a time when music was changing, as the British New Wave Invasion was just coming into full effect and radio stations were revamping away from the albums into Top 40 single programming. By utilizing a past generation’s music, Alhborn avoids all those messy characterization issues such as focusing on the clothes they wore and the technology used, keeping those descriptions to a minimum, allowing her characters to generally speak for themselves, and letting us fill in the blanks as we read along. The plot of the story flows directly from her characters, and these are people we can actually care about, regardless of their malicious intentions. Michael is a victim, but Alhborn keeps the victim card pocketed, letting his actions, or lack of actions, and his emotions define him, so even when he commits a heinous act, we know why he does it, and we feel for him. Everyone has felt trapped at one time or another, and Alhborn uses this knowledge with precision, creating a focal character we can’t get out of our head because we’ve all been there, albeit in completely different circumstances.

The Morrows live off the beaten path, and know the woods around their home like the backs of their hands. In the trees, no one can hear you scream. The boys’ mother, Claudine, is the murder-spree ringleader. It’s her bloodlust that propels the brothers to stalk and capture their prey. Each family member has a part in Claudine’s schemes, even poor Misty Dawn, who often catches the brunt of Claudine’s murderous rages. It’s easy to make a quick comparison to one or more of the many incarnations of the cannibal families depicted in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Alhborn knew this going in, and admits she was more influenced by the film Chained (2012) than anything else. Influences aside, the story she weaves here is simple, and may be a little familiar, which allows her to confidently tread new ground by exploring it from a completely different perspective.

The plot of the story is organic and fluid, driven by the characters and the secrets they hold. Savvy readers may figure out exactly what is going on early in the story, but that knowledge in no way ruins what Alhborn has in store for you as she reveals those horrors to her characters. Perhaps it is that secret knowing, that a-ha moment of reveal, that makes us continue reading, but continue we will, compelled to know what happens, all the way to the bitter end. Despite an ending that feels slightly rushed, Brother delivers horror on all fronts by showcasing a terrible person we actually care about, and by staring the worst of humanity right in the face without ever blinking. The gore is kept at a minimum, merely implied for the most part, but it’s those little mentions will make the bile hit the back of your throat. The horror of the story comes directly from the characters, as this is just as much Rebel’s story as it is Michael’s. Alhborn skilfully manipulates us into seeing only what she wants us to see, slipping tidbits of information in slowly, weaving it into the narrative, so that when the big reveals happen, they are at once logical yet unpredictable in implication. The writing is so good, so precision perfect, that Brother may be this year’s sleeper novel, certainly of the Gone Girl caliber, that deserves all the praise and accolades it will definitely receive.

Brother by Ania Alhborn is an instant classic that reminds us the headlines we read today are nothing new, that terrible people have always been around us, and sometimes it’s those we’ve come to trust the most that do us the most harm. This is one book you need to get in your hands as soon as possible.


Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Paperback (336pp)
Release Date: 22 October 2015

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Brother by Ania Alhborn (UK)
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