The Cursed Among Us - By John Durgin
When John contacted me about a review for his debut novel, it was the cover that swayed me. I have to say, it sets the mood, and is eye-candy, so first up – respect to the cover artist, he did a great job and it does sell the novel. Thank you for the ARC copy, here's my honest review.
I love coming-of-age horror. I love the awkwardness of budding love, I love social anxiety, the feeling of not fitting in, and how problems can weigh you down in ways that just don’t happen as an adult, either because we become hardened to those social anxieties, or we overcome them. Add a touch of paranormal, or supernatural, like with Janz’s Children of Darkness, and I am basically in my favorite horror element.
I’ll also say, straight up, battling against that, there are elements in this book that raised red flags – It’s written in Omni POV, and you get the thoughts of every character, irrespective of whose POV we were originally in. That’s a pretty hard sell to me – yet Durgin’s character work enables us to oversee it. I know I sound like a grumpy old Austrian there, but I have to say it – Omni is strange. I don’t need to know what every character is thinking – I should deduce it from their physical description. Nevertheless, the time we spend in each character’s head does allow a fuller exploration of motive and impulse – and by reading all of their thoughts, their backgrounds are established, the better to understand where each character is coming from. Be it an abusive father, a drunken poor household, the history and world-building here added to the mix, and I was drawn into the lives of the protagonists.
Without giving too much away, I can say this is about a bunch of "reject" kids, who stumble upon a paranormal being, which then ruins their lives and wants to claim revenge on the town where they live. The being is pretty much all-powerful, and the kids are in a lot of trouble.
Durgin doesn’t shy away from gore, he rather embraces it – the first shock of body horror will leave you in no doubt that this is not a “fade to black” writer, Durgin shows all of the gruesome detail in full Technicolor, and once he starts, he doesn’t slow down. It has the feel of a slasher – you know that at the end of the day, whoever is left over is going to be scarred and that no character is sacred. There are hints of a love story blooming, but it doesn’t get too much airtime, there isn’t time amongst the horror, and in that, I think an element was lost – there aren’t really any strong female characters to root for. It would have been cool to have a girl as one of the rejects – who bring a whole new set of adolescent problems and power plays to the forefront. But that’s coming from a good place, being a father to my daughter. Make no mistake, the group dynamic in the book works. Again, credit to John’s Character work, it sold the tale.
The ending is bloody, the location where it all comes to a close is hinted at in the book in the early stages, and we leave the story with an appropriate sour note. It feels like a movie and has that popcorn adventure feel to it that is inherent in coming-of-age horror.
I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, It’s entertaining, a movie adaptation can’t be far away if there is any justice in the world, and I did have a blast reading it. Looking forward to reading more from John, if this is anything to go by, we have a new seat at the horror community table, and John is just the man to fill it. 🤜 🤛
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