“Loosely based on the Hades of Dante’s Inferno, Wytovich’s depiction of the underworld is truly terrifying and it’s likely that it would scare the hell out of Alighieri himself.”
Stephanie M. Wytovich is far from an unknown in the horror community. Having published several outstanding collections of poetry, including Hysteria, Mourning Jewelry, and her most recent book Brothel, she’s arguably one of our more prolific and talented poets. She’s garnered high accolades from readers, critics, and reviewers, and she’s been nominated for several awards, including multiple Bram Stokers. Most recently she’s turned her considerable talents to long form fiction, producing one of the most unique, groundbreaking, and remarkable debut novels to come along in years.
In The Eighth, Rhea Harmon is a broken young soul, betrayed by her lover and coveted by the Devil for her ability to detect people’s sins. And the Devil isn’t the only one who wants her. Paimon, the demon monk who serves as Lucifer’s top collector of souls has been sent to collect her but instead he falls in love with her, vowing to protect her from Satan and branding himself a traitor in the process. But Stephanie M. Wytovich’s Hell is full of surprises and Paimon finds himself seeking help from a force even darker and more threatening than the Devil himself. Oddly, given that the majority of the characters are devils and demons, it’s a poignantly human story of loss, betrayal, and suffering that delights in sin and decadence. Loosely based on the Hades of Dante’s Inferno, Wytovich’s depiction of the underworld is truly terrifying and it’s likely that it would scare the hell out of Alighieri himself.
As has already been mentioned, Stephanie M. Wytovich is a poet of extraordinary ability and that talent serves her prose extremely well. One of the great strengths of The Eighth is her obvious love of language, a love that shines through in every perfectly formed sentence, and her authorial voice is captivating and enchanting, causing the reader to hang on every word with rapt attention. But that’s only one of the major aspects that make this such a rock solid story. For one thing, the pacing is perfect and the narrative flows along so smoothly and sucks you in so completely you may find yourself at the end of the book with no idea how you got there so quickly. For another, the character development is nothing short of brilliant. The cast is composed of startlingly realistic people, their backstories fed to you so adeptly and subtly that you don’t really notice it happening, you just find yourself knowing and caring deeply about these deliciously flawed and, in spite of most of them being demons, starkly human individuals.
All of the components that have already been talked about would be enough to make this a good book, but it isn’t just a good book, it’s a great book, and the thing that makes it that way is Wytovich’s stunning alacrity with storytelling and world building in particular. Her imagination is boundless and her vision of hell and its foul denizens is nothing short of remarkable, so vivid and well detailed you can smell the sulfur and feel the grit of the ashes between your teeth. In Stephanie’s hand, the pen becomes a paintbrush and the page a canvas, her imagery so lucid and strikingly colorful it’s amazing, and it takes just a minor stretch of the imagination to see the pictures she paints so adeptly. Peppered with visceral imagery and unapologetically brutal violence, the frequently gory scenes are strangely beautiful in their picturesque depictions, making this phenomenal story into something that goes above and beyond the norm in great horror fiction.
Slightly reminiscent of the works of Clive Barker and Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan, The Eighth is a truly unique reimagining of the levels of hell and the evils that dwell there, told in the voice of a bold and courageous young author who is just now coming into her prime. Stephanie M. Wytovich has created a work that, while truly horrifying, manages to transcend genre altogether, becoming a literary tour de force the likes of which is seldom seen in horror or any other category of fiction or film. It’s a symphony of language and creativity performed by an author who can comfortably rub elbows with the best writers in horror, and in any other genre for that matter. The Eighth is one of the most exciting books to come along in 2016 and one of the best debuts of the last decade or so. Wytovich is at the top of her game and gaining momentum like a runaway freight train, and you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice if you miss out on this monumental and hugely entertaining read.
SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE
Publisher: Dark Regions Press
Trade Paperback: (252pp)
Release Date: 4 October, 2016
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