When I got an offer to read an early release of horror author Ivan Ewert’s upcoming book, I admit that I had to stop and think about it.
I used to be a huge fan of horror. I was the weird kid who got an adult library card in the 4th grade. One of the first books I checked out with my newly found power was Benchley’s Jaws, and I spend most of the book scratching my head as I tried to line up the story on the page with what I’d seen in the movie. And then there’s the ending, which is completely different from Spielberg’s Hollywood climax.
As my reading tastes have matured I’ve shifted more towards traditional science fiction and fantasy, though some of my favorites could be considered horror – F. Paul Wilson’s ‘Repairman Jack’ series is a prime example. Other than that, most modern horror seems intent on crushing any sense of hope or goodness.
So despite my misgivings, I decided to give Famished a shot.
And I’m so very glad I did.
It’s difficult to review the entire book as it is an omnibus edition. Heck, the back cover blurb is a bit too spoilery for my blood when giving details of the second and third parts.
As Ewert introduces us to Gordan Velander, our protagonist, it’s Christmas Eve, and he’s come to visit his girlfriend, Sylvie. She’s prepared Christmas dinner for the two of them, and this opening chapter is where the book really hooked me. The prose is lush, rich — the written equivalent of a cooking show, in some regard, which is . . . decidedly ironic, shall we say.
Gordon takes his leave to go to Christmas Mass, and this is where we get our first clue at the wrongness that has overtaken Gordon’s life. Sylvie declines to attend with him, and then there’s a hint of a dark secret she holds, as a visitor comes to call. Meanwhile, Gordon makes it to Mass, but is forced to leave abruptly due to illness. By the time he recovers, he’s been kidnapped by Sylvie and her family (though ‘clan’ might be a better term) a group of people who call themselves the Gentlemen Ghouls.
The Ghouls are at once more and less than human. They derive superior strength, speed, and stamina from the consumption of human flesh – which they raise like literal cattle, or swine. Think vampires, only worse, without the weaknesses to sunlight or silver.
And Gordon is one of them, a long-lost member of the family.
Which, he learns, is an even bigger problem than he might think, because once his powers awaken, real food is as ashes in his mouth. The only thing that can sate the growing hunger in his stomach is unspeakable.
One of the more enjoyable accomplishments of Ewert’s work here is how he adapts his style for the different settings in the separate works. The Farm, the first portion of the collection, is lush and sprawling, rich with description of the pain and madness that Gorden descends into at the hands of Sylvie’s family of Ghouls. In the later works, the prose becomes bleaker, more compact, as loss and betrayal wear him down, his urge to remain human shattered by his need for justice and vengeance. He becomes at once more and less of a man.
My only quibble, and it’s a small one, is the fact that the ending is itself rather bleak. That’s to be expected in the genre, and admittedly I can’t see how it could have gone any other way without twisting the plot a bit too much.
All in all, the collection is well-written, crisply-edited, and has a refreshingly unique story line. Highly recommended.