The Monster of Elendhaven

The Thing didn’t know who he was or where he came from. But in time he knew other things. How to steal, how to blend into the shadows, how to kill easy with the flick of his wrist. A genuine monster who couldn’t be killed. He called himself Johann, the monster of Elendhaven. 

This monster is drawn to the last of an old family, Florian Leikenbloom. He’s a sorcerer with a dark past and darker intentions. Together they seek revenge for the city.

I was first drawn to this book by its cover. I like a good monster story and this book hooked me instantly. It also didn’t disappoint. The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht is a dark fantasy. It was dark, beautiful, and grotesque in all the right ways.

This novella packs so much into its 159 pages. It brings forth a lush fantasy world in Elendhaven, isolated in the north by a churning black sea rife with seals and monsters. It’s a society build up and cursed by industry. A rot fermenting deep in its waters and boiling up in plague. 

The characters were also really enjoyable. I liked how twisted the main characters were and how their darknesses feed off each other. I enjoyed every page.

My only complaint is that I wish this book was longer. I would’ve loved to see more of them and more about its magic systems. 

My Rating:

[Goodreads Summary]:

The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning.

These monsters of Elendhaven will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it.

Trapped in a Musing

Happy Sunday, everyone!

So here’s a curious observation. I’ve been thinking a lot about stories where you’re trapped in a situation that you can’t really escape from. No obvious reason really. Seemed like great story fodder.

Most of the media I’ve been consuming this last week have dealt with this. I’ve been reading Slaughterhouse 5 which deals with war with equal parts dark humor and weird sci-fi element. The main character is “unstuck” in time so the main character constantly reliving their life. Then there’s Full Metal Jacket which again deals with the concept of war. Vietnam stretched out to over a decade and war just seems like a thing you can’t see an in to when you’re in it. At least, that’s how I often imagine it.

And this whole trapped theme made me think back to one of my older stories of a cast of characters finding themselves trapped in jail. But it’s not a typical jail. This jail makes no logical sense and everything you do to defend yourself just makes you look more guilty to the powers that be. And it’s supposed to be humorous…

But I have to admit, that’s what I like in horror. One of the themes that I enjoy in a horror story is that feeling that there’s no escape to this situation. I think most horror stories have that element to it. Whether it’s a monster, an event, or the people we’re close to. You can’t escape the situation. At least, not without losing something. And that latter concept really intrigues me.

I have to be honest, I never know where these Sunday musings go when they start. I just come up with a first line and go where that takes me. Then I edit. Then I title. Sometimes like the place where I end up. Sometimes I don’t and start over.

Prosper's Demon

Prosper’s Demons by K. J. Parker is a curious little novella. It got a lot of things right for me.

The narrator is a morally gray exorcist of demons. Demons in this Renaissance-esque landscape possess people and make them do terrible things. Exorcist don’t negotiate. They do what they need to to extract them. It hurts the demons a lot but the results in the death of the possessed. There’s little room for doubt in these matters.

I’m a big fan of an emotionally questionable protagonist. The narrator of this story was witty and uncompromising in his duties. But the narrative seems to challenge him in the character of Prosper of Schanz who’s possession promises to bring some good to the human race. At least in the short term. Seeing him debate this with the spirit proper was some one the highlights of the book. That and his acerbic wit.

But that narrator also hurts the book, strangely enough. The reader is set firmly in his thoughts. The world wasn’t as explored as I would’ve liked and the spirits, Them, are hard to picture. That’s the point to a certain extent but they never really have any narrative weight due to how the narrator talks about Them.

I feel like I would’ve enjoyed the story if we were just one step outside his head. I want to get arm deep in this world but the narrator’s perspective never gives me a chance to relish the detail. I ultimately thought it was an OK book for this reason.

My Rating:

Book Summary:

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out — he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.

The Hunger

Though I love reading history, I’ve only occasionally dipped my toe in the realm of historical fiction. I’ve got nothing against the genre. I’m just quicker to pick up a nonfiction book delving into the topic than a fictionalized one.

But The Hunger by Alma Katsu, proved to be quite the treat.

I find the story of the Donner Party fascinating. The Donner Party is the true frontier horror story of a family caravan, hope set on starting anew in California, finding themselves trapped in the wilderness and the terrible winter of 1846-1847. As their supplies dwindle, people start dying of hunger and quickly turn against each other for survival. In the end, they’re forced to cannibalize members of their own party.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. The human eating is a bit overblown in the collective imagination of this history compared to the true horror of being in a situation that you can’t escape. The animal in us lashes out when found in that corner. If you want to learn more, one book I highly recommend is The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis. It’s a near 500 book tome but the history is woven into a rich narrative that’s worth all the paper.

 It’s interesting exploring how Manifest Destiny gets corrupted by greed and how the hope turns in on itself. 

The Hunger by Alma Katsu explores these things and more. She takes a few liberties with the historical account but her choices breathes life into these characters.  Each character is escaping from something. Whether that be a certain situation or a dark secret. They pin their hopes on California to do away with their sins but they quickly realize there’s no escaping them.

There’s also a thrilling supernatural bent to the narrative. I won’t spoil too much but let’s just say there be monsters. I think the most compelling thing I found was how people are so quick to turn on each other and how strife ends being the main reason why most of the cast dies off. 

This was a brilliant horror story, dripping in dread. 

My Rating:

4 stars

[Goodreads Summary]

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?” 

Dr. Death and My Morbid Fascination with True Crime Medical Horror

Let me talk about my fascination with medical horror. It’s a bit of a problem making me fretful to pass by a doctor’s office.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a diehard true crime fanatic. I’m fascinated by stories of ordinary people driven to commit monstrous things. Traveling down the rabbit hole of my podcast library will reveal titles like My Favorite Murder, Criminal, Accused, Teacher’s Pet and a whole of horrifying truths of real people who project certain images of themselves out to the world.

It’s a real problem. Something I let haunt my sleeping hours as I lie awake and wonder about the worst impulses of human nature.

dipper lying awake

But strangely… I absolutely love it! And I’m not alone.

But recently, my taste for such tales has wandered into a rather specific genre: medical horror.

I’m not talking about the common trope of mad doctors with bloodlust in their eyes wielding sharp scalpels in slippery fingers as they creep closer to your chest cavity.

(Though not going to lie, those tales are fun too!)

mad doctor_cartoon

No, I’m talking about the real-life kind. You trust medical professionals to do their utmost to make you well. Their guiding principle is to “Do No Harm.” But what if you come out of an operation worst than you did before. The horror of finding yourself convulsing in agony and the doctors and nurses have no idea what’s wrong. Well, all but maybe one or two. And knowing, in the end, they get away with all the trauma they knowingly caused you. They could even do it it to more people because the systems in place to protect you weren’t doing that.

If you all find these topics just as fascinating, I have two recommendations.

dr. death thumbnail

The first is the podcast, Dr. Death. It follows the exploits of Dr. Christopher Duntsch retracing his stint from medical school to his infamous surgical career. Each of his operations left were live butcheries that left most of his patients paralyzed, in chronic pain, or dead. Fair warning, this is not for the faint of heart. The podcast goes into some pretty gruesome details of bone breaking and muscle shredding.

the good nurse

 

The second is a book called The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graebar. The book is a meticulously researched recounting of the life and murder spree of nurse Charles Cullen. A nurse who killed his victims by injecting unprescribed chemicals like digoxin and insulin into patient IV bags. It not only goes over the crimes themselves but delves into the personal life of the man at the center of the narrative. I could hardly put the book down!

 

Do you guys have any more suggestions for similar books, podcasts, TV shows on the same topic? I seriously can’t get enough of these type of stories!

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter [Review]

Strange CaseThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter was an okay book. It’s one of those reads that I came away with no extreme feelings one way or another. Not because it was bad (though there were questionable elements) but because it was familiar in a way that wasn’t in its favor. Particularly its plot construction and characters.

The plot was interesting. I’m a sucker for a good mystery and, if you make it engaging enough, I’ll let it take me anywhere. It’s why I struggled to put the book down when the plot really got going. It also helps that the book pays spectacular homage to some Gothic/Victorian stories. It was awesome seeing the children of Jekyll, Hyde, Frankenstein, Rappacinni, Moreau work along Holmes and Watson to solve this mystery. Every name referenced had me wondering if I heard it before and to have certain suspicions confirmed sent my Gothic lit geek heart soaring.

In other ways, however, the mystery was also somewhat predictable. It didn’t really feel like it had any weight—especially since (spoiler warning) I felt like none of it was ever truly solved. I mean, certain parts of it were solved but the actual meat of it was left kind of hanging there and left for sequel baiting (here’s a bias: not a big fan of that. If you set up a primary mystery at the beginning, solve that one!).  There were other story elements that really undermined it but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another thing that the book did alright were its characters. Their exchanges were fun to read and there was some nice witty dialogue that kept me amused throughout. These monster girls were interesting. I loved learning about their backstory and how they viewed themselves in the world but there was something that felt rote in their construction.

The problem was that none of them really stood out to me. They were familiar character types (the uptight one, the wild carefree one, the quiet smart type, the rough and tumble “don’t give a bad word” type, so on and so forth). Familiar character types aren’t inherently bad (let’s make that clear) but if they’re not given the proper time to flex their character muscles to distinguish themselves from other similar characters, it’s really hard to get invested. I felt none of them were truly fleshed out enough to break outside their character molds.

My main issue with this book is how the book is constructed. It’s riddled with tangents. Action, dialogue, scenes are consistently broken up by character exchanges. I know that these dialogues are meant to give character to the story, clueing the reader into bits of background and foreshadowing. More often than not, however, it took me out of the story and spoiled the mystery at points. This element really undermined the suspense and plot at times. I learned to get used to it as the narrative progressed but the little pang of annoyance every time the characters cut into a scene never left me. It tended to endear me to the characters less (Get out the way of your own mystery!!!).

This book ended up being a solid three for me. I didn’t feel too strongly about it but I didn’t hate it either.

My Rating:

3 Star