Book Review: The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith

“A page turner filled with surprises, leaving the reader with a sense of satisfaction, and another name to add to their favorites list.”


While Derek Gray visits a fellow writer and long time friend, Frank Harlan Marshall, he senses something is off about him and the forest surrounding his home, far away from civilization, as they await another friend’s arrival. A feeling of growing darkness is unmistakable. Derek happens to meet Alethea Thompson, a musician from a band that fell off the radar whose leader ended up in an asylum. Affection begins to grow between them, yet the suffocating forces of the forests are already at work on poor Derek. One of his friend’s fictitious killers begins to become flesh and insanity takes hold. The story unfurls in a masterpiece of speculative fiction as fantasy and reality twist into distorted new existence.

John Claude Smith’s writing is absolutely killer in this exploration of nature and artists and the deeper things that bind the two. It’s a weird literary mind trip that awakens new thoughts in the reader’s mind, new ideas and leaves them spellbound by how well everything is woven together. His prose shines brightly, yet doesn’t feel forced.  He’s an expert architect, building worlds both surreal and unearthly within the imagination. Unhindered by trying to keep within any genre boundaries, it’s storytelling at its finest. The story is frightening but not in the clichéd sense of horror. It’s much more, like a specter that sneaks through your psyche to plant the seeds of nightmares, then nurtures them with glimpses of madness and pain until the fruit they bear is both devastating and alluring. The dread builds yet you can’t look away until you’ve discovered the truth.

What Frank, Derek, and Alethea discover is something ancient, deep rooted and malignant, something that can twist a man’s own thoughts in his mind. It feeds on feelings, memories, and phobias like a parasite seeking to devour its host. What dwells in the darkness of the eaves and the rough paths brings fantasy to flesh and seeks to end them all. The forest should be a place of tranquility and peace, yet they come to discover the harsh opposite, in an almost primal sense of discovering the savageness of the land both before them and internally.

The Wilderness Within is a good length novel at around two-hundred and fifty pages, which for some writers is a daunting task to fill, but not in Smith’s case. It’s a page turner filled with surprises, leaving the reader with a sense of satisfaction, and another name to add to their favorites list. John Claude Smith’s writing has been featured in For The Night is Dark, put out by Crystal Lake Publishing, The Beauty of Death by Independent Legions Publishing, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and Nightscript Volume I, released by Chthonic Matter. His work has been described as original and well-written, a torch burning in the name of all things beautiful and strange. His dedication to creating his own brand of literary weirdness definitely shows. His debut novel, Riding the Centipede, was also a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award.   If you’re looking for a writer who can twist your mind into new forms it’s never been before then John Claude Smith is a writer worth a read. Journalstone has a knack for putting out some great dark fiction and this release holds up to their standards, so come along and take the journey with Derek and Frank, step into the forest beyond the dirt and weeds. But beware, the forest is alive.

                                                                                                                  MICHELLE GARZA

Publisher: JournalStone
Paperback: (258pp)
Release date: 6 October2017

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