Slights is the debut novel of Kaaron Warren, published by Angry Robot, that came as part of my welcome pack from joining the British Fantasy Society.
The protagonist is a serial killer and the blurb implies that the story will be a gruesome serial killer horror. Instead it’s somewhat of a hybrid. It’s part psychological horror, part ghost story and part mystery. I enjoy some genre-bending and I was pleasantly surprised that the novel was more complex than the blurb gave it credit for.
It is written in a really engaging voice and over the course of the story the truth about the protagonist’s father is revealed. One of the stand-out features of the book is the way the protag comes to awareness about herself and her relationships. At the end, nothing is what it seemed to be at the beginning and the changes are handled very skillfully.
It’s worth reading, especially if you’re on the lookout for something a bit unusual, and I shall look out for more of Warren’s work.
This came to my attention at alt.fiction 2010. During a panel it was held up as an example of a perfectly good novel that couldn’t sell due to the market. With the upswing of the horror market, it found a publisher after having been with an agent for something like four years. I was keen to see what Twelve by Jasper Kent was like.
This is an historical horror; a vampire story set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars. I found the setting quite convincing, in terms of both time and place. Not that I know much about Russian history, so I’m probably quite easy to convince in that regard. The dialogue felt appropriate although I noticed a few conspicuously modern terms slipping into the narration.
The vampires were the opposite of sparkly. They are returned to subhuman killing machines with superior strength and speed, yet seem quite easily dispatched by the hero once he’s convinced of what they are. There are some nice moments of suspicion and betrayal among the hero and his friends.
Unfortunately, I found that the choice of viewpoint flattened the story someone. It is a first person narrator told by the hero, who is a man traumatised by torture in his past and by the choices he has to make in the present. His response is to become shut off from emotion. Which is a realistic response but as he’s the narrator it leads to an emotionally flat story. The reader doesn’t feel the horror because the narrator can’t. It nags at the edge of the consciousness and the narrator acknowledges that he should have more emotional sensation than he does (although this was a bit ‘tell’ for me) but he can’t feel what he should feel because it will overwhelm him. For me, as a reader, this felt distancing. I think it would have benefitted from first person narration by a sidekick or from third person narration.
Having said that, there was an excellent twist at the end, I did enjoy it and I will read the sequel.
Last year, there was a television adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and thus there followed much discussion of its horror and psychological twists. Well, what more reason do you need to read a book?
I struggled with the language. This was a surprise. I read the odd classic and although it takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of the writing, usually I find that it is perfectly clear once you get used to it. Perhaps it’s because the classics I tend to read are by English authors – Dickens, Hardy, Austen – and James is American. I wondered if the reason I was finding it hard to get to grips with was because it was an American classic and the language was subtly different to English literature of the same era.
What I found really frustrating was that I didn’t know what was going on. Things weren’t spelt out. There were coded references to socially unacceptable behaviour, which to me could have meant all sorts of horrors. Some people find that leaving things to the imagination makes it more scary. Not me. I can imagine a lot of things and not being able to choose which is the thing being described (because there aren’t enough clues to nail it down to one thing) is frustrating. It certainly underlines my belief that detail is what convinces in fiction. For me, the horror was reduced by the vagueness and ambiguity, not increased.
My non-fiction book was Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. It was excellent, full of good advice, good examples and lots of things to try out in my work-in-progress.
Some sessions at alt.fiction 2010 were done as podcasts. They are being posted weekly on the alt.fiction website. So far they have two; Dark Fantasy vs Horror and An Audience with Ramsey Campbell and Stephen Jones.