In the Hands of the Unknown: A novel about the Star Students of the Golden Fleece SocietyA.E. Hellstorm
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First, I must point out that while this is the first book in a series that hasn't been completed, the story stands alone and has no cliffhanger.
This book really grabbed me from the first page and held on tight, a death grip pulling me through the story relentlessly toward what I would describe as sublime terror in the final chapters. I found this slow, inexorable building of tension and fear reminiscent of the works of Lovecraft—some of my favorite horror fiction of all time. What started out as macabre and disturbing was horrifying by the final pages. In a world of horror dominated by gore, shock value and slaughter, it was wonderful to read this book.
That's not to say that the writing style itself is the same as the style of Lovecraft. The voice is unique, the storytelling modern and easy to read.
Told in the third person, I found the voice of the main character extremely easy to get behind. While Miriam/Claire is a strong female protagonist, she's also vulnerable—a skillfully woven combination of the two sides. This gave her some depth that really drew me in. While I've always had a fascination for strong female leads, some of the best ones out there have vulnerabilities. The other characters were just as well built. None of the central ones were single faceted foils. Especially well handled was Cyrus, one of Claire's partners.
Every book has technical issues, but overall this was quite clean. There were very few errors—definitely not enough to pull me out of the story.
The only thing I really struggled with was wrapping my head around the backstory that will back the entire series. The author dribbles out details about this over the course of the story but when the dust settled I felt that I wanted to know more about the Star Students of the Golden Fleece Society. Some of this might be simply my own failing in not understanding some common mythology or archetype. I also imagine that more will become clear in future books in the series.
I really hope that the author will write more works like this. It's been far too long since subtlety, tone and mood were so dominant in horror fiction. Don't get me wrong—it's not ALL subtlety; there are more than a few scenes that are violent and frightening. One actually made me uncomfortable, and that can be an important dynamic in horror fiction. But overall the tension rises from beginning to end in a slow, yet powerful progression, never letting up or allowing the reader to relax.
I strongly recommend this for readers that enjoy this kind of horror and I really am hoping to see more books in this style from this author.
Disclaimer: I purchased this book on my own, the author did not solicit a review. The views in this review are mine and mine alone.