“A brilliantly imagined, comprehensively researched vision of hell done up the Mayan way, replete with owl-headed gods, shapeshifting demons, and a whole host of other creatures both terrible and wonderful.”
It’s sometimes perplexing to see how two distinctly unique individuals can come together seemingly as one mind to create something so complex as a full length novel, and that complexity is probably why it’s such an uncommon occurrence in fiction. There have been a few notable pairings over the last forty years, most notably Skipp and Spector, Preston and Child, even King and Straub—two remarkably different writers—have done it successfully. But when it comes to dark speculative fiction, there are no standout instances of female author teams writing together with any level of consistency. At least until now, there hasn’t been. Enter Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason.
Dubbed the Sisters of Slaughter, the twin sisters have been writing the darkness together since they were children, professionally for the last three years, and they’ve enjoyed some success, having published work in several anthologies including Sinister Grin’s Fresh Meat, Wishful Thinking from Fireside Press, and Widowmakers, a charity anthology for dark fiction author James Newman. Most recently they’ve published their debut novel, Mayan Blue, from Sinister Grin Press and have shown themselves to be just as adept with long fiction as they are with the shorter stuff.
You may have surmised from the title of the book that it has something to do with the Mayan culture, and if so you’re absolutely correct. It’s the story of four college students and an assistant archeology professor on an outing to meet up with their professor, an archeologist who believes he’s found proof of the Mayan culture as far north as the state of Georgia. But when they get there, the professor is nowhere to be found and their search for him leads them straight to a hell like none you’ve ever imagined.
What do you think of when you think of hell? Fire and brimstone? Maybe the unique, Cenobite infested vision from Clive Barker’s version of hell? When Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason think of hell, they imagine no such thing. What they imagine is a place that makes those other places seem no less innocuous than a day at kindergarten. It’s a brilliantly imagined, comprehensively researched vision of hell done up the Mayan way, replete with owl-headed gods, shapeshifting demons, and a whole host of other creatures both terrible and wonderful. Wes and Alissa, the two main characters, spend a good deal of the story running through tight caverns in oppressive darkness, making for a tense, claustrophobic terror trip through a nightmare underworld like none we’ve ever experienced before.
It’s been mentioned by some other reviewers that the characters are somewhat thin but that doesn’t seem to be accidental. For starters, the Sisters make no secret from the start about who the likely redshirts are, and the action ramps up so quick and moves the story forward at such a brutal—and brilliantly managed—pace that it would be a major and detrimental interruption to suddenly stop for backstory that seems largely unnecessary in the overall scheme of things. The characters are as deep as they need to be for the individual purposes they each serve. To expound too extensively on a past that is completely irrelevant to the story would be wasted prose, and that’s a thing Lason and Garza don’t do is waste prose. Their language is sharply concise, filled with beautiful and gruesome imagery, yet manages to be such without being overly expository.
It should be noted that if this were a movie it would come with a warning label. They don’t call them the Sisters of Slaughter for nothing and this book is solid proof that they’ve earned the title, providing us with heavy doses of blood, viscera, and vivid, sometimes stomach churning violence reminiscent of nothing so much as an Eli Roth style fever dream. Garza and Lason’s descriptive prowess will paint Mayan Blue pictures on the canvas on your mind that won’t be easily washed away, and if you’re a fan of splatter, you definitely won’t be disappointed here.
This isn’t to say that splatter is the only thing you’ll get from Mayan Blue. You’ll also get, a fully realized and professionally executed story straight out of your worst nightmare, filled with blistering action and graphic, technicolor imagery. It’s a tale designed to entertain and shock and for a debut novel it performs its function remarkably well, engaging us in a breathlessly fast and unflinchingly violent and gory read that details a trip to hell that will live on in dreams long after the last blood-soaked page has been turned. We loved Mayan Blue and will wait with high expectations for the next entry in the lexicon of the Sisters of Slaughter. If you’re looking for a lightning fast read that will have you thinking twice before your next camping trip, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason have just the thing.
SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Release Date: 25 May 2016
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