Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Forest Bull by Terry Maggert

This book is another strike in the campaign to reclaim certain horror icons from the supernatural romances. From start to finish it keeps you entertained and eager to find out what happens next. The central characters are well developed and entertaining and the villains are gloriously unrepentant.

The thing that most stands out about the Immortals of this story is that each of them is unique. Usually in fiction, when one is changed into a monster they usually become one in the same manner as the one that changed them. Not so in this case. Elizabeth and her "daughters" are each unique in the manner of their attacks. They are also all quite brutal and vicious. The monsters range from the beautiful, suave sociopath you find in the Red Court of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files to the barely restrained beast you find in Stoker or in Christopher Lee's rendition of Dracula. There is also mention of some that have lost all semblance of humanity and are little more than ravening killers. None of them are sympathetic and their manners of hunting and killing are all brutal.

The author also avoids the pitfall many supernatural fiction falls under: making the story into a showcase of how awesome the monster is. There are immortals here centuries old who are killed with a simple knife. This does not make them any less frightening. For one thing, the majority we see have overwhelming charisma that is every bit as dangerous as the ability to withstand a nuke to the face. For another, due to the fact they're all unique, there's no one single thing to say a person is an Immortal. No mirrors or asking for invitation or anything like that. Each has their own telltale and figuring out who is an immortal is entirely a case of logic and deduction. Lastly, the simple knife may not be so simple, or rather the person behind it. There's a lot of hints about the nature of people who hunt monsters, though that is even more nebulous than the discussion of the Immortals themselves.

Speaking of the main characters, they are very much cut in the heroic ideal: outsiders to society who have placed themselves between the metaphorical village and the dragons that be in the blank places on the map. They are kind empathetic and concerned for others. There is a slight impression of being disconnected from the world. They are heroes of an older, grimmer sort like Beowulf or Odysseus. Intelligent, cautious and with predatory mimicry that rivals that possessed by the Immortals. They have a lot of the trappings of what people would call an anti-hero while still clearly being heroic.

One thing to note, not as a good or bad thing but as a matter of preference for the reader. There is a lot of sex in this book. Most of the villains we see are of the type that use sex as a lure for their prey and the main characters constitute a trio of lovers. Further to the point, for the most part uplifting, romantic sex is almost entiry off screen. When sex is shown it is often of a literally predatory nature. The Immortals have inhuman technical skill through long practice but rarely show any emotion other than the will to dominate and corrupt. I must admit to usually finding sex scenes to amount to nothing more than an empty word count, but for the most part the visible sex, as adverse the fade to blacks, simply adds to the disturbing atmosphere. The Immortals almost feel like they're desecrating what should be something sacred and pure. I believe that impression to be deliberate.

The only thing that keeps this from being a five star for me is some niggling technical matters. There are a smattering of typos and grammar errors, not many but the ones that are there standout. Also word choice is sometimes odd. Ring, the main character, often uses words and phrases in dialogue that seem disjointed from the manner of speech I'd expect from someone of his stated background and upbringing. This is not a problem with his inner monologue. it's his speech sometimes slips into a more erudite manner than I'd expect for someone of a more practical mindset. There's also a couple of cases of phrase repetition such as when "inarticulate fear" appears in narration and then the same phrase is used a couple of pages later by a completely different character. However, these issues are rather minor and might be something I'm a bit hyper aware of. Others might not notice at all.

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