“The wonderful description and the brilliant interaction between his characters completes a perfect reading experience that we have now come to expect from one of the best writers writing dark fiction today.”
The horror of war is very real. Hollywood went through a period in the aftermath of the Vietnam War where this was used to great effect, in movies such as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon. The list is endless. The list of horror movies, or fiction, featuring the American Civil War as the setting is much shorter. But considering it is the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States, it does seem to be fertile ground for a good horror story. Which is exactly what Philip Fracassi has delivered with Shiloh.
Throughout the story, we follow identical twins Henry and William, though we see the story through Henry’s eyes. Called upon to fight for the Confederate South, they take great honour in their duty and face their enemies on the battlefields of Tennessee. The battle scenes are horrific, Fracassi never once shying away from the details, forcing the reader to confront the horror of war head-on. We are given a glimpse into the warrior-psyche of Henry, that he is caught in a kill-or-be-killed scenario, but he seems to be the perfect soldier, the perfect weapon. He is duty-bound, along with his brother and the other men, to fight tooth-and-nail for every inch, even if it means his death. This is all beautifully described by the author in the opening pages.
However, events take a tragic turn and William is mortally wounded. This causes Henry to reconsider where his priorities lie and what he must do next. In the immediate aftermath, he continues to fight, vowing to return for his brother. But, when he does, he discovers a miracle. For the land the two armies are fighting and dying on has been altered. The word “corrupted” comes to mind, but when the outcome is positive, can it really be described as such? William’s wounds seem to be healing at an accelerated rate. But what is the green stuff that covers the wounds? And what part do the demons play, the demons that only Henry seems to be able to see on the battlefield?
Fracassi blends the supernatural element with the story of two brothers bound together no matter the cost. To what lengths will they go to survive together, and how far is too far? The atrocities of war have nothing on what awaits the reader as Fracassi leads them down a path shrouded in shadow and unsteady underfoot. Before you know it, you will have reached the gripping finale and will be gasping for breath.
Fortunately, this version of the book features a bonus story, Soda Jerk, to prolong our stay. While it differs in time and setting (1950s smalltown, USA), the underlying theme is similar: the corruption of nature. Carrie-Ann, new to town and unsure of her new home, is escorted (with her mother’s blessing, of course) by the class president, Jimmy, on a tour of the local landmarks. After a visit to the disquietingly serene Lake Sabbath, and a quick stop at the junkyard (home to a car that serves as the gateway to Hell, if the kids are to be believed), they make their way to the drug store for a burger and malt. Discouraged by Jimmy’s increasingly erratic behaviour, and the strangeness of her new neighbours, Carrie-Ann wants nothing more than to go home to her mother. And she certainly wants nothing to do with the stomach-churning malt concocted by Fred, “…the best soda jerk in the county.” Despite her misgivings about her new town and its inhabitants, Carrie-Ann soon learns the true meaning of community, Sabbath-style.
Fracassi takes a natural scene and injects the horror, revealing the nightmare lurking underneath, like a waiter presenting you with a silver-domed platter, only to reveal a plate of maggots beneath. But this book is far from maggots; it is yet further evidence that Philip Fracassi is a gifted storyteller. He begins by setting the scene using description with a perfect pitch, capturing the voice of the era with pinpoint precision. With Shiloh, we are at once immersed in the blood-soaked trauma of the Civil War while, in Soda Jerk, we are Carrie-Ann, fish out of water. But he wields his words like a master craftsman, hinting at the sinister undertone, filling us with unease and dread. We know that this way danger lies, but we never truly know what form it will take, until it is too late, and we are dragged beneath the waves like a swimmer caught in the undertow. The wonderful description and the brilliant interaction between his characters completes a perfect reading experience that we have now come to expect from one of the best writers writing dark fiction today.
Publisher: Lovecraft eZine Press
Paperback: 70 (pps)
Release Date: 25 April 2018
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