Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate - the Savoyard Plantation - and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice. It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of Savoyard still stand. Where a longstanding debt of blood has never been forgotten. A debt that has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols's homecoming...
©2011 Christopher Buehlman (P)2011 Penguin
Let's start with the plusses - this is a rip-snorting, fast-paced, carefully-crafted thriller in both horror and historical fiction categories. The story is literary, first rate and laid out just right. The narrator was very good, although he seemed to forget that his 3 protagonists were YANKEES in the south, and generally gave them heavy southern inflections as well, No big deal.
Now to the not-so-good bits. 39 minutes into the recording it seemed to skip, and while the book is labeled as 9hr6min in length, the download read out at 8hr25min. I contacted Audible and they said they found no problem, and sent me a fresh file, but the problem was the same.
I wound up purchasing the book on Kindle so I could make comparisons! The 39 min. skip turned out to be only a single word, and I resumed listening. But almost every chapter ends with one of these squeaky cuts, where a single word is cut off, and when the book resumes and you're in another chapter, it's very disconcerting. I THINK I heard the entire book, but I hope that Penguin Audio is more careful with its finished products in the future.
This audibook was not of the quality I have come to expect from Audible. There were frequent hiccups - like a CD skipping. The story got started slowly, but by the time I got to the second half of the book, I was glad I stuck with it.
The quality of the recording really messes this up. Toward the end of chapters - over and over - (AND over!) the audio just SKIPS. There is no way to tell how many words or sentences or paragraphs might be missing. Otherwise an interesting and exciting story and great narrator.
Buehlman's prose is a pleasure to listen to. His descriptive writing is rich and takes you there. His characters are complex and human and deeply engaging. Even his minor characters are fresh and vivid. The setting is eerie, the premise is intriguing. We are all set up for a wonderful walk through the strange, strange south. Then, about two thirds of the way through the book, I get the sense that that someone told the author to quit pissing around and being literary and write a novel just like other horror novels.
Suddenly, many of the characters develop convenient but unconvincing paralysis. The "ones across the river" are disappointingly revealed to be... well, let's just say they're a lot less interesting and more predictable than they could have been.
This is not a bad horror book. But it could have been an outstanding piece of writing and a better horror story. The initial development of delightful creeping dread reveals itself to be less than the potential of the story promised.
All this said, I'm only so critical because for the first three quarters, it's just brilliant.
Buehlman's novel is subtle leading you up to an interesting finale. Imagine your worst fears made trivial by a terror that exceeds your imagination.
I absolutely loved this story!
The characters have great duality and the era is an interesting one- post WWI.
The only negative I can report is the technical editing of the audio. The last word of of the last sentence in each chapter is clipped. I think the recording studio should be notified. You do understand what is being said -it is just my opinion that this causes a sense of abruptness the story would do better without.
Brett from NC
This is a great book! Not quite as good as his second book (Between 2 Fires) but seriously head and shoulders above most of the horror that is out there. The story moves along a little slow at first, but then then the menacing tone starts and the dread builds. However, when the mystery is revealed things unwind a bit and I started to see bad decisions that could have avoided the tragedies that unfolded. The story lingers a little longer than I wanted but the ending ties all subplots together and gives a nice sense of forboding and mystery for things to come. I also really like the way the author told this story in first person as if he is telling you how things happened in the past. He uses this to forshadow things to great effect. Finally, I liked how Buehlman spared the southern characters from some of the typical stereotypes used by other authors. This is a good story and short enough to listen to in a day or two.
I am currently listening to this book for a second time. The story sneaks up on you in a way that absolutely forces you to keep listening. The setting is perfect for the horror that slowly unfolds and with the combination of the talented voice actor and the incredibly believable writing of the author it is a story that will stick with you for a long time.
Only problem I had was that there seemed to be something wrong with the recording. Throughout the audio sentences seemed to be clipped off at the end and words to complete sentences seem to have been lost.
This is one scary book. I really enjoyed it. I love to listen to scary stories, especially when I am home alone! This one was a good one! I really like the way the mystery builds and instills a sense of fright, making you want to yell "run, stupid".
I almost passed on this book based on the comments concerning the audio problems. There is certainly the occasional clipped word, but they are few and far between. I didn't find it distracting, and missed none of the story.
It's tough to say too much without saying too much, if you know what I mean. From a writing perspective, it's always great when an author who can string a nice sentence together ventures into this genre. That's what we have here. The writing is descriptive and lends atmosphere without ever detracting from the story line. Very well done.
The narrator gets top marks, too. The cast of characters could have easily overwhelmed a lesser performer, but he nails it!
I felt unease from the first few minutes listening to this story. It took a bit of listening to place it in time. I guess if I had looked at the Publisher's Summary I would have seen that it was 1939, but I didn't so I had to try to figure it out, which I did eventually.
At first the unease is in the relationship between Frank and Eudora. The author does a good job to give you a sense that there is something off about the relationship, and you discover later that the start of their relationship has created chaos and trauma for them both.
Then there is Whitbrow, and that place is odd and so many things make you uneasy that you know something is going on. The town has a strange ritual of sending pigs across the river as a sacrifice and when they decide it's a silly ritual and to stop, things go haywire.
A good horror story makes me uncomfortable as this one did. There is one scene towards the end that still makes me a little ill thinking about it, but it is what the one thing that allows Frank to make a decision about what he is going to do and is crucial to the story.
Well written, nice prose, and a sense of unease that blooms into terror. What more could you want from a horror novel?
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