I had not read Smith's earlier book in the series, House of Blood, before I started this one. By the time I was fully sure that I should go back and read the first book, I was already a good third into this one and figured that I would finish it out. With this regard, I am not going to really talk about the background or murkiness all that much, since I have no idea how much was explained in the first one. This one references the first book a lot, but explained stuff in such a way that I do not feel it is absolutely necessary. Just recommended.
The novel deals with the survivors of the previous book and is mostly about three general subplots. The first deals with Dream, who has turned bad after her previous experiences. The second rotates around Chad and Jim and Chad's new girlfriend Allyson and their attempt to find a sense of security. The final subplot deals with a new house and the various machinations that goes on inside.
The main purpose of the book is to bring all the subplots together, slowly but surely. Along the way, there is sex and violence and drugs and gore and torture and people letting go of their humanity to revel in inflicting pain. With the exception of Chad and Allyson, you are not really given much of a sympathetic leg to stand on, even though the characters are interesting, and it becomess a tale of monsters versus monsters, freeing up the center of the novel from moralizing and allowing it to go as wild as it wants. I assume this is the point, and am glad to see such a choice made.
I can deal with sex and violence just fine, and enjoy both when well written. My verdict on this novel is still a little out, though, even after finishing it. While it has pointless bloodletting and pointless orgasms galore, and describes them in a way to make them vivid, Smith never quite taps into the raw energy of his subject in the goriest scenes. When Dream is holding a girl she believes to be a servant of the Master out over Niagra Falls, you feel the dark, latent energy. You are tense and feel unnerved. When a slave girl is sodomizing a victim repetively, you feel a bit sad that it came to that, but it does not quite sink in (no pun intended, I promise).
Smith has a grasp of how to build up tension and does so several points in this book, but leaves several scenes that drip right to the edge of the quality of true horror unfulfilled and of too shallow a character to be potent. I am unsure of he is just trying to let missing nipples speak for themselves or if he is suggesting that the real monster is the killer who does not even feel anything with the killing.
My final recommendation is to say that this is a Eh novel that probably will get an upgrade once I go back, now, and read the first book*. It puts too much stock in overly runny gore and not quite enough stock in meat. By the end, nothing is really resolved so much as continued on for another couple of years past the end of the first one (leading me to think that there is a third book planned for the series, at least) and monsters have killed monsters over and over again. Recommended to gore fans, sex fans (especially lesbian sex, which is the only sex actually described in detail), and to horror fans who like a little dark magic in their mix.
*: Well, the answer to that is that this is still an overall Eh book, though certain aspects of the story are better now that I know background. I recommend you try the first one first and then come here if you liked it.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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