Witchopper - by Dan Soule
This is my fourth outing with Dan, having read Savage, The Ash and Plight of the Valkyrie previously. Totally out of order -chronologically, Witchopper having been “released” (possibly not “written” – it’s impossible to say) before any of the others (though The Ash and Witchopper were released within two months of each other), this is a different type of horror than I’m used to from the pen of Soule.
It’s a beast of a folk horror book, weighing in at 478 pages, and that’s partially due to Soule's writing a slow burner here. The book takes time to pull all of its threads into a convergent whole, and the characters and their emotions are explored under Dan’s emotional magnifying glass. I have no idea which book this represents for Dan – I don’t think it was his first – but there were a couple of Onmi Pov slips, author info slipping in to describe events and things which the characters could not have known, the information given directly to the reader as pertinent information, relevant for a better rounder picture of the event taking place, and I get it – there’s a lot going on here amongst the layers. Most of the layers are explained eventually, the author was emphasizing points that would later be clarified. Still, the nerd in me stood up when they happened. Against that, the editing was spot on. Not so much as a comma out of place here, to my knowledge, Dan. Really smooth.
The violence, when it comes at the end, is brutal and unflinching, Soule here finally pulling aside the curtain and letting brutality have its moment in the spotlight. I did feel that this time around, it was too late – for me, I wanted Dan’s trademark unflinching prose earlier – the threat of the Witchopper is mainly psychological, the descriptions of the various hallucinations are well detailed, the sounds and sights the characters that are cursed see and experience, it’s all well-presented, but that actual violent threat was distant. Soule balances the psychological drama with an unfolding physical threat in the form of a bully, and also a cyberbully, but their interactions, though violent, were pulled up short through circumstance when they occurred.
The story here, is the main character, Rob, and his budding love. Rob quickly becomes the victim of the story, and that then becomes his theme in the book, with event after event and incident after incident scarring him and his psyche. Other people have focused on the relationship Rob has with his father, which, it can be said, is a main thread of the book, but for me a side thread – I think the main story here is the victimization of Rob. The way that an incident in your life that happens to you, can define you in other people’s eyes, and that initial incorrect impression governs all further interactions until it becomes the defining characteristic of a person regardless of its inaccuracy. Rob’s victimization here becomes the central theme of his existence and triggers his own personal stand against oppression. That he was innocent of the charges made against him is irrelevant – and Dan layers the oppression almost gleefully.
Dan’s world-building is solid, the local ghost story is brought wonderfully to life regardless of its actuality in real life – was this a made-up ghost story, or is this Soule’s take on a local legend? No idea – I come from the area but have never heard of it – despite recognizing various slang terms Dan injected into the narrative (Duck – very Loughbrarian (a person from Loughborough)). So what did I think of it?
The writing is pretty solid – you can see the progression in Dan’s style when comparing it to books like Savage, but that in itself isn’t fair, the book should be viewed on its own merits, not in comparison, although that’s almost impossible given my love of Soule’s Savage. I think the build and emotional content were almost too much for me (too long), but again I like my violence and sudden shock trauma. This is a slow psychological build with trauma at its defining end. Dan has written a book with nasty characters – the father is a sleazeball. The bullies have all the luck. The main bad guy is a dick and doesn’t know how to treat women – I guess I’m saying that the bad guys are easy to hate, Dan’s painted the novel with easy-to-emote characters. You’ll bleed with Rob, feel for him. It’s easy to invest in the book. The Witchopper herself is mainly an impotent threat until she isn’t – she’s scaring the characters and doing her thing like the woman from that Ring film, but as far as actually killing goes, she took her time.
I liked this, I liked the setup. I liked the characters, I liked the exploration of emotion – and how badly a budding love story can be killed in the bud by malicious enemies. It’s worthy of a 4 ⭐ ‘s – I think it pales somewhat against Dan’s later work, which is pretty much clear – given the strength of them – but it holds its own.
Looking forward to The Jam – up next on my Soule radar.
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