Book Review: Dead Souls by J. Lincoln Fenn

Dead Souls is one of the best, most horrifying novels to come along in ages and likely to find its way onto multiple bestseller and best of year lists.”

2016 has been one of the best and most exciting years for horror fiction in a long time, with new, outstanding dark lit being produced by veterans and newcomers in almost equal measure. We’ve had mind-blowing stories from the likes of Stephen Graham Jones, Nicole Cushing, and Paul Tremblay, just to name a few, and we’ve seen outstanding work from promising newer voices such as Michael Wehunt, Philip Fracassi, and Daniel Braum. And there’s even more in store for us with promising books coming down the pike from Stephanie M. Wytovich, Bracken Macleod, and several others. One of those is Dead Souls, the second novel from author J. Lincoln Fenn, author of the breakout 2013 masterwork, Poe.

In Dead Souls, Fiona Dunn, thinking it’s all just a drunken game, makes a deal with a man who calls himself Scratch and says he’s the devil. But it’s no joke and she soon finds herself not only indebted to Lucifer, but also drafted into a strange support group of like individuals known as “dead souls”, all people who have sold their souls and agreed to do a horrific favor at some unknown point in the future. When it comes down to it, “deal with the devil” type stories seem to have been done to death and you may be thinking this is just another of the same. But when you’re J. Lincoln Fenn, there’s no such thing as “just another” anything, and in her newest novel she’s written a remarkable and unique tale, darkly beautiful and brilliant in its execution.

Dead Souls is a multi-layered story that works on many levels, not least of which is pacing. Fenn moves her story along at breathtaking speeds, pulling her reader in from the very first word and holding their attention to the final, wholly surprising ending. But the things that really take this tale and ratchet it up several notches from the usual fare are remarkable storytelling prowess and outstanding, virtually incomparable character development. Nothing J. Lincoln Fenn does in this book is expected and Fiona Dunn is no exception. She’s a compelling, deeply flawed, often selfish character with a dark and troubled past and a jaded outlook on virtually everything, and through her eyes, Fenn takes a blisteringly honest, often horrifying look at humanity and all the terrible deeds that people are capable of. In this case, those acts are the favors of other dead souls being called in, but she uses concrete examples from history to add realism to the story and increase the overall terror that permeates the book.

It doesn’t stop with Fiona. This twisty, suspenseful tale is jam packed with extraordinarily real characters, each one with an important role to play in the story and none more necessary than the devil himself. For a character that makes very few appearances, Scratch is one of the most important—second only to Fiona—because of those ever impending favors and the constant fear that he will call them in at any moment, causing edge-of-your-seat excitement as Fiona races against time trying to find a way out of her predicament and maybe even make her situation a little better than it was before. But the devil always gets his due and, as he starts demanding favors from the dead souls, the story becomes even more horrifying as the deeds he requires become increasingly more heinous and inhumane, forcing people to do things that are impossible to live with in the aftermath of their completion.

For a debut novel, Poe was a remarkable book, receiving the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award for SF/F/Horror fiction and going on to become a bestseller, garnering resounding accolades from readers and critics alike and causing horror fans to sit up and take notice. Dead Souls serves as proof positive that J. Lincoln Fenn’s first novel was no fluke. Her story is lightning fast, her characters rich and complex, and her prose sharp and precise as a finely honed butcher knife. She has a flare for mood and a masterful knowledge and obvious love of the English language that is on full display here, and she puts it to good use as she brings us a fascinating, horrifying, and ultimately delightful tale that should be way up at the top of every horror fan’s to be read list.

Dead Souls is one of the best, most horrifying novels to come along in ages and likely to find its way onto multiple bestseller and best of year lists. If you haven’t read J. Lincoln Fenn’s exceptional brand of horror fiction, this is most definitely the place you should start.


Publisher: Gallery Books
eBook: (352pp)
Release Date: 20 September, 2016

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