Many people believe that horror fiction begins and ends with Stephen King. It’s easy to see why. King has sold 900 gabillion books, and they keep coming out. The man could publish a phone number scribbled on the back of a receipt and the New York Times would drool all over it.
That’s fine, but that means that a lot of readers aren’t taking full advantage of their resources. There are a plethora of small presses publishing quality horror. Self-published authors are also creating some fantastic work. It’s not all dinosaur erotica and woodworking books.
One of the darkest, meanest horror books in recent history is Orphans, by Roy C. Booth and Axel Kohagen. Published by Dark Fantasy Press, Orphans begins with the discovery of a body in a drainpipe. From there, the story slides down a blood flume into complete hopelessness and depravity.
The main suspect is a local teen, a social outcast, suspected of being a Satanist. But any moral high ground is hard to hold in the town of Black Forest, and everyone involved in the investigation–from the sheriff to the principal to the people in town–has secrets that are about to come to light.
One of the difficulties about reading a book that has been co-authored is tonal shift. It’s often easy to sense when one author has taken the narrative over. There is a style change, a whole different way of telling the story. It can be disconcerting.
The good news is Orphans does not suffer from that problem. It’s almost impossible to detect where Booth ends and Kohagen begins. This gives the book a smoothness one doesn’t often find in novels with two authors.
It’s not a perfect book. Another fine-tooth comb edit would have helped; there are some clunky sentences and typos that made it into the final cut that shouldn’t have. These are small bumps along the path, though.
The big picture is this: this book doesn’t have a soul. It doesn’t have a sense of humor. Orphans is what you read while listening to the ten-hour long mix of “The Doom Song.”
If there’s a lesson the authors of Orphans want to impart to you, it is that you are fucked. This is a book centered in nihilism. There’s no such thing as redemption here. This is a serious book for serious fans of bleak, non-mainstream horror.
There’s room for a sequel and I hope it happens. There’s a brutality to Orphans that one doesn’t see in American horror often enough. No punches are pulled; no quarter given.
Orphans is a quick trip to the worst parts of the human heart, and leaves the reader with virus chills, desperately needing something to cuddle. This book is mean. I liked it. Choose wisely.