A Guest Review by Raine
Summary Review: Appalachian horror romance with compelling tragic rural folk song atmosphere and great action scenes.
Blurb: Haint-working runs in Dan Miller’s blood. Not everyone can help the restless dead cross over, especially when the haunting threatens the Living. But the death of his parents six years ago forced Dan to give up his calling in exchange for raising his brother and sister, all the while struggling to keep their rural NC farm afloat.
So when the flamboyantly goth Leif Helsvin shows up on Dan’s doorstep looking for help with an evil necromancer, Dan’s first instinct is to turn him down. With two teenagers to look after, he’s already got all the trouble he can handle. Besides, the sexy Leif is too much of a temptation, and Dan is firmly in the closet.
But hiding from problems only makes them worse. When a friend dies at the hands of one of the necromancer’s haints, Dan realizes that only by helping Leif can he keep his family safe.
What Dan doesn’t know is that Leif has a terrible secret. And as the relationship between the two men heats up, it turns out that Leif’s past may cost Dan everything he’s fought so hard to save.
Vividly set in down trodden rural North Carolina, the atmosphere this book creates is reminiscent of a dark Gillian Welch song about the dispossessed. Ransom Gap is a small community scratching out an agricultural living, full of nervous superstitions and mountain magic that happens to be true. Dan’s family story should be sung by the fire, at a slow bitter heart beat with a disconnected lyric about murder, suicide, guilt and the forever haunted.
Protecting people from the malevolent effects of the unsettled dead is Dan’s uneasy heritage. His stoical acceptance of this hard working life full of responsibilities was an effective way of revealing his personality. This is a man who puts himself last and his two siblings first, hiding his sexuality from everyone except his family for fear, ‘they’ take his sister and brother into care. The slow growing relationship between him and the gorgeous but deeply troubled Leif had some nicely paced unresolved sexual tension. Along with his way up front sexuality Leif brings the outside, a more urban contemporary world, a reminder of what Dan has stepped away from. This also helped stop the story floating away on a gothic horror cloud. Unusually for me, while I really liked the romance here, for once it was the other stuff that completely grabbed me.
The setting and atmosphere was outstanding, built on a historical foundation of generational revelations. The symbolism of the massive oak tree the family farm was named after was movingly intertwined throughout the story. The details of the spiritual world worked well, I particularly liked the premise that each ‘ Walker Between Worlds ‘ had their own belief system. I also enjoyed the other characters, Dan’s local friends are believable, his sister Bea is a strong young woman, while his brother’s teenage behaviour is understandable. Dan’s fellow walker, protective Taryn, was a great addition in the heroic Scooby gang tradition.
There is a lot of good physical fighting action here. The horror elements of the haints were described with graphic sensory detail, actually I thought we could have done with maybe a little less of the detail after the first few very shocking encounters. I found myself saying aloud… yes I get it they smell very bad! Unlike a Gillian Welch song, the language here is richly descriptive, perhaps pushing on the door of being over written. However even as I was aware of it, I rather liked this exuberance and the heightened energy it produced. There are some memorable and very visual scenes – not only the one of shirtless Leif with a sword – which have stayed with me.
I think horror is my least favourite genre, but the strong elements here worked for me because I was caught up by the emotional strength of the overall story. I cared about these characters. Both Dan and Lief have difficult personal journeys to contend with, guilt and redemption are dealt with in a believable way. There is a real balance between the messy everyday world of apple harvests, neighbours, disappointed girlfriends and the supernatural one with evil necromancers, goddesses of death and the attacking dead.
An unusual and good escapist read with some surprising emotional depth.